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Ai Weiwei’s Hawaiian masks are not to be worn

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In 2020, the face mask has become the most fashionable accessory in the world. Amid the deluge of ornamental offerings, Ai Weiwei published a series of hand printed masks which directly benefited charities like Médecins Sans Frontières, ultimately raising over $ 1 million.

Charitable efforts are one of the few things that motivate the reclusive Weiwei to release physical goods, in addition to the Chinese New Year, and Contemporary Hawaii is one of those causes that Weiwei believes in. Well, that and the Hawaii Triennial 2022, Hawaiian conservation and The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai’i and Palmyra Chapter.

So, Weiwei has released a new series of face masks for the benefit of all of the above organizations, each made individually in partnership with a local non-profit organization. Honolulu Engravers and adorned with artwork designed by Weiwei to reflect local Hawaiian flora and fauna.

The masks sold last year were artistic, yes, but they were as wearable as any face mask. Weiwei’s new masks are really not meant to be worn: priced at $ 100 each, $ 1,150 for a set of three, and $ 2,300 for a set of ten, they’re works of art through and through. .

These masks go on the wall; regular masks should always go on your face.

“The masks are representative of one of the most traumatic events in our lives – a time that tempered human exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources,” said Ai Weiwei. “This collection allows us to help the Hawai’i Islands, a community that is directly affected by growing global environmental concerns.”

The path follows nature, Weiwei’s mask collection, is part of the “Pacific Century – E Ho’omau no Moananuiākea” organized by Hawai’i Contemporary. Weiwei’s 10 mask designs are a testament to how climate change is eroding Hawaiian coastlines and flora, with illustrations inspired by subjects as diverse as Hāpu’u (giant tree ferns), ta’ape (blue-striped snapper) and the ‘ōhi’a lehua (a sturdy tree traditionally used to build houses and furniture).

“Art is a conversation,” said Katherine Don, executive director of Hawai’i Contemporary. “These masks commemorate an important moment in time and provide a reflection on the human effect on the environment.”

“Ai Weiwei’s masterful and empowering artistry challenges each of us to be part of the solution,” continued Matthew Ramsey, Hawaiian Program Director at Conservation International Hawai’i.

Why are face masks Weiwei’s medium of choice for this post? I see it as a reflection of how COVID-19 has altered the daily lives of humans, much like how the industrial growth of mankind has affected the health of natural resources.

All masks are available until October 2021 on The Hawaii Contemporary website



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