What were some of your expectations when ringing in the new year? I bet you didn’t expect that 2020 would instead look more like seemingly endless quarantines, curfews and the mandatory use of a sanitary mask when stepping out in public. Like a slow-moving storm, Covid-19 began making its mark in the beginning months of 2020, which eventually turned into a global pandemic midway through the new year. Across the world, countries, states and cities have placed into effort mandatory rules and regulations in hopes to stop the spread of the virus. The medical mask soon became a household staple that everyone was obligated to have and wear. And this new project by The Curators aims to look at it from a new, creative light.
Lea Simone Allegria and Augustin Doublet, co-founders of The Curators – an online gallery founded in 2018 – saw in the turbulent situation an opportunity to engage creatives from around the world. Earlier in June, the two presented their latest initiative, titled The Mask Project, a direct response to the Covid-19 global pandemic that takes the number one tool and turns it on its head. The result is a competition that calls for artists of all backgrounds to recreate artistically the universal symbol for the prevention of the spread of the virus.

The Mask Project is an original answer to the difficult times artists are facing, featuring the mask as a territory of expression and turning it into art,” explains Lea. Until July 20th, artists are encouraged to submit works using the mask as their point of reference in either one (or both) of the two categories: limited edition (a sanitary mask) and original (a handcrafted mask). Of course, there are prizes for each category: the winner will take a cash prize of $1000, and the second and third will get $300 and $200 respectively. In addition to that, the main ten finalists – elected by the public on thecurators.com – will have their works published and exhibited on the gallery’s website. We speak with Lea to know more about the project, the jury, and how can you be the winner of the contest.
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The Mask Project calls for artists to address the Covid-19 pandemic by creating one-of-a-kind masks. But what formed the idea for a competition?
We created a call for art while being stranded in Paris, called Send your quarantine art, on Instagram. We received literally thousands of artworks from all over the world, and we came to realize that offering calls for art and competitions enhanced artists’ creativity. When masks popped out from all over all of a sudden, we all hated them. We therefore decided to turn the struggle into a creative process. The Mask Project is an original answer to the difficult times artists are facing, featuring the mask as a territory of expression and turning it into art.
Even things that seem delicate have political content. How much of this project is an artistic expression for artists to create something interesting, using the mask as their point of reference, and how much of this is a comment on the crisis that is going on in the world right now?
As the Covid-19 crisis impacted the whole world, the mask became the universal symbol of this unprecedented period. It’s certain that their emergence in our everyday lives has stirred a lot of emotion and engaged in great political commentary, especially in the US, but I think masks are by nature ambiguous – they hide as much as they express, they protect and restrict at the same time.
Like no other artifact, masks engage to confront the invisible and question the norms. They transform the person who wears them as much as the ones looking at them, and create a unique and uncanny dialogue. Masks are synonym with shapeshifting, that’s why they’re wonderful ways to explore the transformation of society and subjects like identity, gender or pollution. That’s certainly why the project resonates so much with the current situation, not only with the Covid-19 crisis but also the environmental, societal, and political struggles the world is facing.
It’s also a wonderful medium for artists to take over, especially now. While galleries and museums are closed, the contemporary art of mask-making can hopefully have its moment. Masks are often used in fashion but mostly as complementary pieces. We hope this competition will create bridges between cultures and, most of all, bring more light to some of the incredible talents behind the masks.
What is your take on the wide range of creativity that is being executed by the artists? Did you ever anticipate the kind of pieces you’re receiving?
Well, yesterday we had a mask submission made entirely of cat hair; we surely didn’t anticipate that one! We are humbled and very excited about the diversity of submissions we’re receiving, and they’re coming from all over the world. The Mask Project Gallery is like a giant mask show exploring different cultures, continents, worlds and emotions with a modern and contemporary vibe.
What are some of the stages in curating an assembly of these artworks?
We wanted The Mask Project to be as open, transparent and inclusive as possible. We believe in social curation – that’s the reason why we chose to open the competition to the public vote. We entrust the public to elect ten finalists in both categories. It gives the opportunity for all artists to be seen and their work shared easily. Then, the jury will select three winners per category.
After reading more about The Curators and The Mask Project, I noticed the great mixture of jury members and your affiliation with the Equal Justice Initiative. Can you discuss why you chose to collaborate with them?
When we started doing research for the project, we were amazed by the quality and diversity of wearable artworks that exist. We rapidly came across the Instagram profiles of Carina Shoshtary @fashion_for _bank_robbers and Jym Davies @_false_face – both provide a superb curation of the art of mask-making, they truly are wonderful sources of inspiration. We also asked photographer Delphine Diallo as she’s been working extensively with masks. Her knowledge, the quality of her work and the role she plays with the artistic community in New York are priceless.
To bring as much light as possible on the artworks and create connections, we also wanted to have fashion and art magazines on board. We have been blessed by the support we received. Some members are high-end art curators, like @ArtsXdesign, @picame, @contemporaryartcollectors, @emergentmagazine or @myartisreal. Others are more fashion oriented, like @thekunstmagazine, @sickymag, @flanelle, and @hautepunch. On top of that, we have received the invaluable support of @the.pinklemonade, who offers a special price: a post on his famous feed (+1M followers) for the artist of his choice.
The Curators is a Brooklyn-based project, and when the Georges Floyd tragedy happened, we were shaken to the core. And we know how much the Equal Justice Initiative’s work against social injustice is precious and how difficult it can be to act upon inequality. Donating $1 of each submission to the cause seemed like the one thing we could actually act on.
Lastly, I wanted to comment on the emphasis you have for supporting emerging artists by giving up-and-coming artists an international platform to display their works of art – this contest being a prime example. What was your drive behind this?
Before the gallery, Augustin was helping his friends to sell their art – sometimes through proper exhibitions he organized, sometimes on the street, like with street artist Denis Ouch. With the emergence of Instagram, we thought that there was an opportunity to showcase friends and artists we believed in. The Curators DNA is to bring light to emerging artists through collections created by guest curators. We figured that the best way to support unknown talents was to have them being introduced by respected figures from the art, the entertainment or the fashion worlds. Being showcased alongside more ‘advanced’ artists creates a unique emulation.
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Mattias Reinula
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Marc Sommer
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Imogen Evans
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Jeanne Vicerial
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Karina Akopyan
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Spela Gale
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Imogen Evans
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Miranda Marquez
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Yasuteru Hirata
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Dani Kwan
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Yasuteru Hirata
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Yasuteru Hirata
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Aloma Lafontana