Pandemic and protest inspire new mask project at the Tang

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Pandemic and protest inspire new mask project at the Tang
Masks by Nicole Cherubini and MASKS4PEOPLE in the exhibition Nicole Cherubini: Shaking the Trees at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. Tang Teaching Museum photo.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY.- The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College announces a new collaboration that addresses the current pandemic and protests with artist Nicole Cherubini, and MASKS4PEOPLE, an organization based in Catskill, New York, that was founded in response to COVID-19 by regional artists to create and distribute masks free to the community.

The Tang collaboration is an edition of 500 unique masks based on Cherubini’s exhibition Shaking the Trees that will be distributed to Skidmore students and other college community members, as well as regional community groups taking part in the Tang’s educational outreach initiatives.

“Since the public can't come to the Museum, the masks are a way for the Museum to come to the public,” said Cherubini, an artist who divides her time between Hudson and Brooklyn, and is known for her boundary-breaking ceramic work and whose exhibition has transformed the Tang’s mezzanine into a community space with glazed tiles, woven chairs, ceramic sculpture, potted plants, and historical works from the Tang collection.

“Working on this mask project helped me understand more about how to make a new kind of space,” Cherubini said in a recent conversation with artist Becca Van K, MASKS4PEOPLE co-founders Laleh Khorramian and Kristen Dodge, and Dayton Director Ian Berry. “How to spread the art out, as opposed to bringing people into the gallery.”

The masks are made of multiple elements that ensure no two are the same. Cherubini, Khorramian, and Van K hand-dyed the fabric in four different colors. The front of each mask has one of two silkscreen patterns that were hand-printed by Mark Hayden of Upstate Ink, a printing company in Catskill. One pattern is based on the tiles in Cherubini’s Tang installation and the other is based on a line drawing of the exhibition by Tang Designer Jean Tschanz-Egger. The inside of each mask has one of eight quotes about using one’s voice and racial injustice, such as Mother Ann Lee’s “Now in my mouth I hold … pure and burnished gold”; Angela Davis’s “We have to talk about liberating minds”; James Baldwin’s “Nothing can be changed until it is faced”; and Rebecca Solnit’s “There are voices raised in the absence of listeners."

“The quotes are provocations,” Berry said, “that all of us, as individuals and as a museum, need to consider these ideas in this time.”

“All the words coming out of your mouth are mixing with the words on the mask,” Cherubini said. “It's challenging you to consider what you're thinking and saying. Instead of, ‘You have to think this,’ it's more, ‘What am I thinking?’”

Khorramian said, “You don't know what quote you're going to get. It's a bit like a fortune cookie. I think it's asking people to think about their role, their potential complacency or activism. It's asking the individual who's wearing the mask to absorb the meaning of the quote.”

MASKS4PEOPLE started making masks in March, and have made over 7,500 masks for 175 organizations, including hospitals, healthcare centers, and community groups.

“As artists, we respond to the moment of what's happening and figure out how we can contribute in some way,” said Dodge, whose SEPTEMBER art gallery in Hudson, New York, represents Khorramian and Cherubini. “MASKS4PEOPLE is bringing together artists and creating work together to meet a need.”

“There is something about collaboration that our souls need,” Cherubini said. “We need a form of connection that can happen at a time when we can't be physically close.”

In thinking about how the pandemic changed her approach to her own exhibition, Cherubini said, “It was a puzzle to imagine how best to bring people together in a gallery space, and then, all of a sudden, we're trying to bring people together in ways where we don't know how to begin. The masks are a really beautiful way to start.”

Nicole Cherubini was born in Boston in 1970 and lives and works between Brooklyn and Hudson, New York. She earned her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from New York University. She has presented solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Jersey City Museum, New Jersey; Pérez Art Museum Miami; University at Albany Museum and Santa Monica Museum of Art.

Nicole Cherubini: Shaking the Trees will be open to the public once Skidmore College safety protocols allow and is scheduled to be on view through September 2021.

Kristen Dodge and Laleh Khorramian co-founded MASKS4PEOPLE in response to the COVID-19 crisis. M4P masks are made by a team of artists based in the Hudson Valley with the mission to make and distribute masks to hospitals, healthcare centers, organizations, and individuals in need for free. M4P has produced and distributed over 7,500 masks to over 175 groups from New York City and upstate New York, to California, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah and others.

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