Rachel Vancelette
8 min readAug 26, 2020
Image credit: Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art. © Barbara Kruger

The history of masks is probably as old as man although thousands of years ago the materials that were used disintegrated and were lost, so the oldest intact mask found is only about 7000 years old. Used not only for medical protection as we are doing today during the pandemic, the earliest record of masks for medical protection is when 2 surgeons in 1897 wore them to operate.

The earliest use of masks is thought to be for rituals and ceremonies, however, the list is almost too long to enumerate the multiple uses of masks in most cultures around the globe: religious ceremony, shamanic rituals, dance masks, in Japan to protect others from infections, for theater, disguise, entertainment, to communicate with the dead or with animals, offerings to the gods, for hunting, feasts, wars, performances, theatres, fashion, sports, movies, as well as in medical, protective or occupational purposes. Today, several top contemporary artists have joined their art with public need and are producing unique art collector’s masks, adding a bit of visual joy to uplift us during a depressing time in our history. The following artists are bringing artist’s masks to the general public in an effort to help and support the effort to fight Covid19.

Artist Kenny Scharf Studio: Artist Mask

Artist Kenny Scharf — Kenny Scharf teamed up with DNA Merch with a series of collaborative face masks presenting whimsical, brightly colored signature cosmic characters. The accessory collection features four wild designs coming from Scharf’s most iconic pop art paintings. The machine-washable masks portray the mouths of Scharf’s cosmic characters in an array of vivid tones and gleaming colors. The website recently updated with fresh new designs (including kids masks too!) after a sold-out sensation! Instagram: @kennyscharf @dna_merch

Artist David Shrigley, Linder, Eddie Peake, and Yinka Shonibare — Four of the UK’s leading contemporary artists — David Shrigley, Linder, Eddie Peake, and Yinka Shonibare — have designed a series of unique limited-edition printed face masks to raise money for British artists and museums that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new initiative, launched by The Contemporary Art Society aims to provide financial support to artists and local museums who have been the most affected by the ongoing mandatory lockdowns under current government restrictions. At the CAS Rapid Response Fund, sales of the masks will support and aim to ensure that museums are provided with the resources they need to make new art acquisitions from artists when they reopen to the public. Instagram: @davidshrigley @edditpeake @shonibarestudio

Rein Wolfs, director Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Iris Duvekot.

Artist Carlos AmoralesFew days after everyone had left my studio, I proposed Janet Martinez, the studio manager, the idea to produce masks with her family’s cloth-making sweatshop. For years we had discussed the possibility of making some project with them, so resulting from that long OMS discussion about if masks were suited to protect people from becoming infected or not, it suddenly made sense to manufacture masks for those who can’t stay locked at home but have to work during these deadly weeks. We are now producing 3500 masks per week for a period of six weeks, which are distributed via an NGO called WIEGO (directed in Mexico by Tania Espinoza) among thousands of informal workers who range from mariachis, sex workers, shoe cleaners, market tenants and voluntary cleaning services”

Black Cloud The butterfly on the face mask is a reference to the work Black Cloud, an installation of over 15,000 black butterflies that inundate the viewer. Gorgeous and yet intensely surreal, the swarm of moths also has an edge of menace, enveloping the viewer like a plague. Black Cloud has been the public’s absolute favorite since the exhibition opened at the Stedelijk Museum, and was an overnight instant hit on Instagram. Now the face masks are swarming Instagram at international levels! Instagram: @carlosamorales

Kavi Gupta COVID-19 Mask Project x Jeffrey Gibson. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta

Artist Jeffrey Gibson — Kavi Gupta Editions together with artist Jeffrey Gibson launched a Covid-19 Mask Project featuring limited artist’s editions of handmade cotton face masks by Gibson himself. 100% of proceeds from mask sales will be donated, split between the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians ( to aid with COVID-19 critical care response, and to NDN Collective (, an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grant-making, capacity-building, and narrative change. Colorful and bold the mask were an instant sell-out! Instagram: @jeffrune

Artist Alexandra Posen: The 2020 election cycle may be the most important one in our lifetime, states the ‘Resistance By Design’ founders artist Alexandra Posen and former creative fashion designer Zac Posen in their mission statement — To present original designss meant to inspire, empower and provoke conversation. Inspired by all of the ordinary Americans stepping up to serve one another, and for their heroism, the company launched a special mask titled: The VOTE Mask which has been worn by celebrities, politicians and more. Instagram: @resistance_by_design

Black Lives Matter Face Mask — Support the Black Lives Matter movement with this beautifully designed mask by Illinois-based designer SpringSims. Instagram: @society6

Kavi Gupta COVID-19 Mask Project x Devan Shimoyama. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta

Artist Devan Shimoyama — Devan Shimoyama is known for his sparkles and amazing painting which caused a sensation the Warhol Museum Art in 2018. Curated by Jessica Beck, he has taken on the task of making hand-made Covid-19 masks directly in his studio. Starting the effort during the lockdown, the artist decided to donate all proceeds from the sale to the COVID-19 African American Relief Fund, created by the Cook County Black Chamber of Commerce to assist members of marginalized communities suffering from the spread of COVID-19. The Fund allocates its funds to three areas of relief: grants for small, black businesses; providing fresh produce for seniors and families with children; and giving to local hospitals and first responders. The terribly bad news is they are also sold out! Keep an eye for these masks around town — they apparently sparkle and shine for anyone who wears them! Instagram: @devenshimoyama

Artist Ai Weiwei — Ai Weiwei has raised over $1.4 million for charity by selling face masks printed with some of his most iconic artworks. Since announcing the project in May, the Chinese artist’s studio has sold over 22,000 masks to people in over 40 countries, according to an updated post on his Instagram. The proceeds will be used to help vulnerable people impacted by Covid-19 as noted by the artist. The masks were produced in collaboration with Guggenheim Museum curator Alexandra Munroe, and were printed by hand at Ai’s studio in Berlin. The items were made available via eBay. Instagram: @aiww

Phillips Auction House: — Phillips Auction House has released limited-edition face masks designed by leading contemporary artists the Haas Brothers, Summer Wheat and Bel Fullana.Each mask, produced in an edition of 500, has a portion of the proceeds going toward a nonprofit of the artists’ choice. The Haas Brothers is benefiting The Bass Museum, Summer Wheat benefiting Artadia and The Innocence Project and Bel Fullana benefiting NAACP. The masks are fabricated in collaboration with Citizens of Humanity. Each mask is made of 100 percent cotton and is washable and reusable. Masks are available in packs of three. Instagram: @citizensofhumanity @phillipsauction @thehaasbrothers @summerwheatlillian @belfullana

Artist Yuk King Tan: — Strings of light Tiffany blue and white cover the face of artist Yuk King Tan, titled Breathing Tool. The work, which has over a hundred strings in the two colors attached to a face mask, is Tan’s artistic rendering of what Hong Kong has been through during the coronavirus pandemic. The order of the stripes was created based on the chart of infection rate in the city during March and April. “Breathing Tool” is not intended to be worn on the streets. The Australian-born, Hong Kong-based Tan has already made over a hundred functional cloth masks and continues the efforts. Each masK is unique, with a variety of colorful patterns. These masks certainly belong in every fashionista’s closet. Website:

Image credit: Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art. © Catherine Opie, Courtesy of Regen Projects, LosAngeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong and Seoul; © 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for theVisual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Yoko Ono. Used by Permission/ All Rights Reserved.

MOCA Museum | MOCA Mask Collection — Nine Limited-Production, Artist-Designed Face Masks by Virgil Abloh, Mark Grotjahn, Alex Israel, Barbara Kruger, Yoko Ono, Catherine Opie, Pipilotti Rist, Hank Willis Thomas, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, plus a MOCA Mask. Each purchase directly supports The Museum of Contemporary Art. @MOCA

Threadless: — A recent launch by Threadless is an impressive, multifaceted initiative to combat COVID-19 and help consumers and health-care workers on the front lines stay safe. It also focuses on artists and creatives who’ve lost income during these dire times. The Chicago-based eCommerce company released artist-designed face masks, with a portion of proceeds going to MedShare, a nonprofit that delivers medical supplies to communities in need. The cloth face masks featuring work from Rob Sheridan, Alex Norris, and Mukta Lata Barua, comply with CDC guidelines but are not medical grade. Instagram@threadless

For additional updates and the latest follow Rachel D.Vancelette Instagram:@rvancelette

Image credit: Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art © Piplotti Rist, © Hank Willis Thomas, ©Yoko Ono & ©Mark Grotjahn



Rachel Vancelette

Editor at Large/Contributor as a top art industry specialist for arts and fashion industries. Vogue Italia, Metropolitan Magazine, Mandatory, UrbanMindz + more.