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NewsJul 9, 2020

Unconventional masks chronicle highs and lows of self-isolation

MFA student Corina Alvarezdelugo finds community, healing through coronavirus-inspired artwork

The artist in three different masks: rusted nails and moss, rubber snakes and googly eyes.
Photographed: Three masks created by Corina Alvarezdelugo. From left: "No Trespassing," "Medusa" and "I Can See You"

By Georgia Sparling

Corina Alvarezdelugo’s pandemic face masks are not exactly Dr. Fauci-approved.

While isolating at home in Simsbury, Connecticut, the Venezuelan-American multimedia artist has used tea bags dipped in plaster, a collection of old house keys, chicken stock soup cartons, rusted nails and other decidedly atypical mask materials for her masks.

Alvarezdelugo, a candidate in our MFA in Visual Arts program and a middle and secondary-school art teacher, began making the masks during the coronavirus shutdown. With her three children grown up and out of the house and the boarding school where she teaches shuttered, the empty-nester wanted to find a way to be helpful but wasn’t sure how.

“I needed a purpose,” says Alvarezdelugo, who learned the importance of social justice from nuns in her Catholic schools.

Mask made of a plastic globe beach ball.
"We Are In This Together," 2020, inflatable ball with a world map imprint and yarn.

A friend’s daily art prompts on Instagram encouraged her to keep creating, and when one of those assignments was to design a mask, Alvarezdelugo had found her muse. With the only sewing machines in the vicinity locked inside the school, she couldn’t take a more traditional route to construction, but she could learn something new.

Beginning with a crochet hook and some rope, she made her first mask, then moved on to wire, then leather scraps — all scavenged from that cache of miscellaneous materials collected by multimedia artists the world over. What started out as an artistic exercise, soon took on more meaning as the masks began to reflect Alvarezdelugo’s emotions and responses to the day’s news.

She titled a mask made of a deflated globe beach ball “We Are In This Together.”

“What better way to represent that than with a map?” she says.

A mesh mask communicated her feelings of isolation, crocheted plastic grocery bags acknowledged essential workers and “Do Not Ingest Disinfectant,” a face covering made of caution tape, was a response to President Trump’s comments about consuming bleach to combat the coronavirus.

Other masks are more lighthearted — a quartet of empty toilet paper rolls titled “Toilet Paper Crisis” and a mask of plastic googly eyes called “I Can See You... Stay Home.”

Three photos of a face mask made of yellow caution tape
"Do Not Ingest Disinfectants," 2020, caution tape.

She photographed herself wearing each mask and posted them to Instagram, where she began to connect with a new community. Some of her followers even began mailing materials for her next mask.

“Even though I’ve been in isolation, I found a virtual community who are waiting for my next mask to come,” says Alvarezdelugo.

She began crocheting the masks as a much-needed creative outlet, but found the encouragement from this online community more restorative than she could have imagined.

“The takeaway is that, in retrospect, I think I’ve been healed by them more than I’ve been healed by making the masks,” she says.

The masks also drew the attention of Marge Anderson, a board member for the Deerfield Valley Art Association’s Center for the Arts, with whom Alvarezdelugo had worked previously. Using the mask series as inspiration, Anderson organized the Corona Mask Contest. Each entry must be made using materials found at home, much like Alvarezdelugo, who is also a juror for the competition.

Artist wears a mask with a black hand printed on it
"Domestic Violence Awareness," 2020, microfiber, thread, Sumi ink and elastic bands.

All of this attention has been unexpected for the artist, who is only slowing down when her hands need a rest.

“I would like to keep making them until we don’t have to wear masks any longer,” she says.