Arts, Coronavirus, Features

BUild Lab connects pandemic and art

Since the Fall semester began, students, faculty and staff have been wearing face masks on campus to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But now, these coverings have also taken on a new, non-protective purpose: they’re art.

Boston University’s BUild Lab is calling on the BU community to design artwork in the shape of a mask for its “Masking Emotions” project. SOPHIE PARK/ DFP FILE

Boston University’s BUild Lab will be accepting artwork submissions for its “Masking Emotions” project until Sept. 30. Members of the BU community can create a work of art that symbolizes an idea relating to the last five months, with one catch — the final product must be in the shape of a mask.

Those who wish to submit are encouraged to use a real mask, a symbolic model or a cutout version of a mask. The exhibition is on continuous display inside the BUild Lab at 730 Commonwealth Avenue.

[email protected]’s Ahlea Isabella-Cochran, marketing and communications manager, and Lisa Lavina, assistant director of operations, are founders of the initiative. Isabella-Cochran wrote in an email they wanted to use this project to highlight how masks connect people while also showcasing personal identity.

“While we were chatting, we realized we were each wearing a unique face mask that either matched our outfit, personality, or feelings in that moment,” Isabella-Cochran wrote. “Collectively, we thought that despite a lot of unique challenges and changes in each of our lives, masks were a unifying thread.”

The two decided to turn their idea into a creative project open to the BU community. Lavina wrote in an email that the personal art project aims not just to represent feelings and experiences amid the pandemic, but also for community members to better connect with one another.

“We have all been through something shared and individual at this time and we want to hear from anyone who feels inspired to participate,” Lavina wrote. “Our hope is that students will see themselves in some of the art, or will gain a greater understanding of what their peers have been experiencing during this extraordinary time.”

Sarah Collins, assistant director of the BU Arts Initiative, said she is excited about the idea. Collins said there is a wide overlap between the Arts Initiative’s and BUild Lab’s programs, so the centers often find opportunities to work together.

On this occasion, the BU Arts Initiative will help the BUild Lab publicize the project through its newsletter, on social media and in the Fall Arts Preview, which advertises a “smattering” of Fall programming.

Collins said hosting physical art installations and showcases has proved challenging, but that students can benefit from “Masking Emotions” being an in-person experience.

“Thankfully, we’re able to create it as an interactive exhibit in a way that is physical,” Collins said, “so the BU community can ultimately engage in that if they’re on campus.”

Ellen Miller, a third-year student at BU’s School of Law, said she is planning on submitting a hand-drawn mask for the project. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking, she said drawing and creating art are simple joys for her.

“I think my participation was just about carving out the time to make the art as a form of self-care,” Miller said. “I think it’ll be nice to have in the space. I think it’ll be nice to have all these different perspectives in a room.”

Miller’s mask is a self-portrait depicting her seated in front of her computer screen. The computer screen is the focal point, she said.

“For better or worse, that is kind of where our lives are right now,” Miller said. “In a lot of ways, they’re online.”

Whether a personal portrait, a symbol or anything in between, Lavina wrote that the project is a way for the BU community to personalize their stories through the universal symbol of a mask.

“Art taps into a different part of our brain and our emotions and can be a great way to bring shape to thoughts and feelings that swirl inside us,” Lavina wrote. “It’s an opportunity to make feelings real without having to use words.”

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