Face masks have become an omnipresent symbol and reminder of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, regular mask wearing was a common practice in some countries, an act of community consciousness and personal protection. Now, while at least partially normalised in many nations around the world, mask use remains contentious. For some, wearing (or not wearing) a mask is associated with political affiliation or ideology, indicative of a respect for or rejection of science and the seriousness of the virus. For East and Southeast Asian communities (and other communities of colour) in the UK, mask wearing is further complicated by the added risk we take when donning a mask, making us potential targets for racial violence.
The upsurge of anti-Asian racism stems from a long history (and continuation) of structural inequities, and an existing environment of othering and exclusion, dehumanising stereotypes and everyday racism. These embroidered masks provide a vivid reminder of the racialised violence experienced by our communities, and the underlying fear that taints our existence. Using actual text, descriptors, and quotes from news articles, the embroidered masks use thread to detail different forms of racism experienced by ESEA people in the UK that received media coverage, though exposure varied widely. Individuals’ own words were used as much as possible. These examples were selected to show diversity across locations, dates during the pandemic, types of racism, occupations, age, gender, and ethnicity. They give voice to our collective pain and our resilience. The slow and thoughtful act of embroidery transforms this ugliness into a form of witnessing and remembrance, a restoration of dignity, and an act of collective care and healing.
We are not disposable. #StopAsianHate
Nine close-up headshots displayed in a 3x3 grid of the artist wearing a blue and white disposable mask, each embroidered with different text.
Detailed views of the full embroidered masks which describe the racism experienced by ESEA community members in the UK are available through the link below. Some viewers may feel harmed or traumatised by the images, texts, and links that follow, as these graphically describe instances of racism, violence, and bodily harm.
Having read the content warning above, if you still wish to access the detailed view, click here.
Daisy J. Hung
Photographs by Hermeet Gill, photographer and artist, hermeetgill.com.