Featured in Issue 6 of The Digital Cloth Emagazine
PROTECTIVE ART - MASKS!
This is a non-competitive Art Mask challenge called Protective Art - Masks!
The idea is for the artist and creators to put their spin on the ideas around the protective mask…. which could be a functional looking mask or a creative styled mask.
Lots of people are making masks in all shapes and sizes, colours and styles around the world so here was the chance to have some fun and put artistic creative spin on making a mask for this collection.
We have included a beautiful letter from Tracie Stewart, Tracie created a mask and told her meanings behind that creation as well as her account of these past months working on the front line during a Pandemic…. We thank you Tracie and all the amazing people out there working to keep us all safe and the country going as much as possible.
The Masks are now making their way across the country and world to assemble for an exhibition tour of Australia…. So we are hoping many of you may get to see this fabulous collection for real!
Thank you to all for the artists that supported this collection and we look forward to seeing them travel next year on Exhibition.
Sewing the Past and Present into the Mask
by Tracie Stewart
I jumped at the opportunity when asked by Caroline to create an Art-mask. I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do and very little has changed from my original idea to finished piece.
I am a nurse and have been working as one for over 30 years. I have seen, and cared for a number of new diseases/viruses (HIV/Aids, SARS, legionella, VRE) and some very old diseases/viruses (Gastro, polio, measles, even cared for someone with Diptheria when I was a student nurse). The disease or illness may change but the way people react often is unchanged. Fear is what I see. Fear of the unknown, fear of catching the disease, fear of spreading the disease, fear of the consequences, stigmatism, fear of the unknown. [One powerful example is to read “April Fools Day” by Bryce Courtney. Its written about his son’s, and families, experiences of getting HIV from a blood transfusion], but I digress.
Once again, as a nurse I have witnessed first hand a new virus come to show us fear, this time on a much grander, terrifying and global scale. Affecting all the world and having enormous consequences for everyone. I doubt that there is anyone on the planet that hasn’t been affected by COVID19, Coronavirus. The proper name of the strain of the virus is SARS Co2, and the disease process, or respiratory illness, it causes is COVID19. It is from the subset of viruses called Coronavirus (and this also includes SARS, MERS, and the Common Cold).
We all watched from the beginning as the story broke in China just before the new year, and how the virus was spreading rapidly and how China responded, with total Lock-down to try and stem the spread, creating new hospitals in days. On reflection that in itself was a clue as to how big it would be.
I was at Urunga with Caroline doing a workshop with the wonderful Sandra Mollon, as the virus started the change the world as we know it, no toilet paper, changes to flight and holiday plans- and then total Lock-down. FEAR is what I saw when I returned to work.
Many had their lives turned totally upside down overnight, no work, no holidays, no jobs, no cars on the road, no people in the street, and lots and lots of fear.
For myself, on the Front-line, there were massive changes at the hospital I work at. All non-essential operations, procedures stopped overnight, staff were asked to redeploy, wards in the hospital were moved around, even off site in a matter of days. There was a massive recruitment drive, for Wardies, kitchen staff, cleaners, doctors, security, and nurses, ex ICU nurses were asked to retrain/up skill, and recently retired nurses were asked to return. And then we waited, it was like the hospital had drawn breath and paused waiting for the onslaught (I have personally experienced this many times as a nurse waiting for a trauma to arrive in ED, for that super sick patient to deteriorate or arrest, or waiting for a patient to pass over). But this was so much bigger!
I was deployed to the front of the hospital, at the front door stopping and challenging everyone who came through those doors. Did they have a cough, sore throat, fever, had they had any recent travel overseas, on a cruise ship, interstate, any contact with anyone who had? Initially we were also screening people who could and couldn’t get to the fever clinic, these rules changed daily, and were challenging to implement. Most people were compliant and going with the flow with wherever the ever-evolving changes took them, a few didn’t and allowed their fear to show with rudeness, and anger. This was from everywhere, staff and patients. Masks were not handed out unless you met the criteria to go to the fever Clinic and staff only wore them if required to go into a room with a patient who was on droplet or airborne precautions.
I had some very challenging days, and one particular bad day where I was accused of failing in doing my job, and was reported by one very angry nurse, it continued in various forms from different people from the same department throughout the day. My Boss was amazing and totally supportive as I cried in her office as I questioned myself what I had done wrong. The answer- was nothing, on reflection it was the nurse yelling at me who was frightened and wanting to deflect that onto someone else, and included others as well. I turned up the next day, to the same role and did the same job again.
While everyone adjusted to life in lock-down, starting new sewing projects, organizing their sewing rooms, getting their UFO’s finished, cleaning their houses I went to work and did the shopping. The way that the hospital cared for patients changed with many outpatients switching to a phone call from their doctor instead of paying for parking, sitting for hours in the waiting room, all for a 5-minute consult. But still there was fear from many. Many a person who rocked up to the front door were wearing protection, masks and gloves, but clearly were unfamiliar with how to wear a mask. They wore them upside down, not pinched at the nose, not pulled open correctly, wearing a scarf, wearing 2 masks, a hanky even an eye patch over their mouth! Fear was everywhere: - the way people responded to anyone who coughed, or wasn’t social distancing correctly, people using their elbow, knuckle or pen to push buttons, staff wearing plain clothes so they wouldn’t be targeted for being a hospital worker coming to work and be abused or spat on. It was palpable everywhere, when I went shopping, at work, and the media was saturated in it. I haven’t been a fan of watching the news but I really totally switched off as I found it too distressing to watch.
Lock-down eased and life started to return to a new normal. Many things have changed. The virus still remains and has made a resurgence, but the fear response has been a little better managed this time, the hospital and the wider community have had time to adapt, and put in COVID safe plans for their workplace.
With the new restrictions which were recently returned to South east Queensland, I got to see fear on a much more intimate and heartbreaking way. I moved on from the front door and returned to floating, as a casual nurse, around the hospital. This time everyone had to wear a mask, all staff, every patient who left their room to go for a test, or go for a walk around the ward, even patients sharing rooms. I spent a few days on the heart ward, where patients who have heart attacks, bypass surgeries and everything in between go. I watched as the restrictions banned all visitors from entering the hospital. This struck me so profoundly! Every day I went to work and watched patients who had had big heart attacks, cardiac arrests (their hearts stopping) having bypass surgery and have NO visitors, they had to deal with their fear alone with only the nurses and doctors for company. One woman was very ill one day and I heard the conversation she had with her husband on the phone, crying because she felt so ill and all she wanted was to hold her husband’s hand. One poor fellow I cared for had been in for a month and had to go back for yet more open heart surgery because of complications, I chatted to him about this and he was quite philosophical and understanding of why, but he said that having a nurse to chat to just wasn’t the same as having your family to chat to.
Father’s Day is normally a very busy visitors’ day on any ward I’ve ever worked on, but not this year. Because of those and other experiences I’d been having I made some slice and gave it to every patient on the ward on Father’s Day, a small gesture but it was something I could do to bring a tiny smile to people’s faces.
And so, we come to now, where the virus is still present. Some people are returning to their places of work and things are relatively normal. Fear is slowly fading as we move towards the future. What that will hold none of us know for sure. I hope that some of the new ways of managing patients and communicating with them, like phone consults, remains.
Having lock-down has allowed so many people who have previously been “time poor” to stop and have some time to sit with themselves, with their families and loved ones and reflect on their life and direction and what is really important in life. What other possibilities and changes have come about because of COVID19? Only time will tell. Personally, I hope that people have found a deeper respect and love for each other, for each life that is so precious, because I know I have.
And so, to my mask and what it means. From the left side looking at it, it is a complete and closed loop for the ear, as the past is closed and cannot be changed. I chose to use some of my Great Grandmas’ recycled button’s, including an old shoe button of hers to hold the loops to the mask, to reflect that we are again experiencing and walking the path of a pandemic like our forebears. Her name was Mary Agnes nee Betts and she was born in 1892. I have the privilege of having her buttons, and I knew her when I was young as she lived until she was 97. She had told me a couple of stories about being a midwife back when she was a young nurse. She lived through WW1 and the Spanish flu, which I have represented by the gravestones, and poppies in front. I have used muted colours to reflect the past.
I have cut holes into the mask and have them representing the viruses of then and indeed now and how it is punched holes in our lives, it also touches on the notion of the effectiveness of the mask and the stories that have surface around that, on social media and the wider community at large with protests and the Karen stigma about mask wearing.
There is a path leading to a sign post at the crossroads, which I think is where we are presently. The sign post shows the words past (smudged to represent how faded the past is) and the future, with a beautiful vine winding around and around the present. I have used it to represent where we are now still caught in the present in something restrictive but potentially beautiful with many unforeseen opportunities and possibilities present to take forward with us.
Next is a couple of dandelion weeds which as a child we used blow and make wishes on, they have been caught with the winds of change as we move towards the future.
There is a rainbow highlighting on the future sign where the sun is shining, as it parts from the clouds with the silver lining representing the unknown blessing from the changes we are experiencing. I’ve left the bottom of the future side largely blank for the unknown of the future, with a love heart to help guide us forward. Finally, the loop for the ear is broken reflecting the hope that the time of wearing masks will end soon.
WE THANK YOU...
I'm Caroline, and I use fabric and thread to tell my story.