The title of the upcoming multimedia exhibition, UnMasked, would suggest that it was inspired in reaction to COVID. But actually, the organisers say, the exhibition was in the works well before the pandemic hit.

The idea emerged from designer Sharka Bosakova’s response to the figurative masks people wear. In the era of the selfie, she asks, how and why do we pretend, even in front of ourselves.

Ms Bosakova who comes from Prague in the Czech Republic, draws on her experience of the Velvet Revolution and observing how societies structure the way we present our public selves. She said she thought things would be different in Brisbane, but found that here too people wear masks.

“Sometimes the only way we can speak is through a shadow in the corner of the room—it begins in shadow, and it slowly covers the room in light,” Ms Bosakova said.

Ms Bosakova has collaborated for the exhibition with friend and sociologist Dr Mark Bahnisch.

Together with other collaborators, she explores the multiple roles of the masks: as personas or roles we choose for ourselves, and as roles imposed on us. Sometimes the mask is used to reveal character, in religion and theatre and dance, for example, rather than to hide it.

“Always present in every society, often used as a means of connecting with the divine, the mask has now become an engaging and confronting fetish and trend, a fear; straddling fashion and art, for a game in which being and appearing are reversed and alternated”.

Now with the pandemic, we wear masks to protect ourselves and others.

“At the moment it’s about safety, it’s about community, it’s about regard for others as well,” Dr Bahnisch said.

But the pandemic has also revealed strange contradictions such as the current political situation in Hong Kong.

“In Hong Kong, you’ve got the amazing situation at the moment where it’s illegal not to wear a mask, and it’s illegal to wear a mask. If you want to oppose the Government, you must not wear a mask so that CCTV can get you and they can put you in prison. But in order to obey the Government, you must wear a mask because of COVID.”

Opening event

The exhibition, at the Queensland College of Art Grey Street Gallery from 20 to 31 October, will be launched by Councillor Jonathan Sri on 22 October.

“I find it fascinating to reflect on what parts of our faces should and shouldn’t be hidden in different contexts, and the shifting cultural norms about how we present ourselves to the world,” Councillor Jonathan Sri said.

“Just six months ago, a mask was seen as a barrier to human connection, but increasingly I find that wearing a mask is interpreted by many residents as a sign that I’m taking responsibility for collective health and safety, and is thus experienced as reassuring rather than threatening.”

“At a time of increasing state surveillance, masks have also become even more politically important as a shield from facial recognition technology and police repression of protests, with the right to wear a mask in public spaces emerging as a necessary component of the right to engage in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations. ”

The event is not just an opportunity to visit the gallery, you can also join in from home and be part of the exhibition. Your selfie or Self Portrait will be live-streamed in the Gallery.

Home Workshop

Sharka suggests you paint or create a mask from found objects – paper, kitchen appliances, plants or natural objects, anything really. Or express yourself with a Self Portrait in any medium you choose – painting, drawing collage, assembly.

Then, upload an image and tag it on Instagram with #UnMaskedTheGabba @unmasked_org

Cover image: Thomas Oliver by Sharka Bosakova