‘Mask-erade’ art project aims to shed light on the Covid-19 pandemic

Students pose during their "Mask-erade" event held on the lakeside patio on Friday, Oct. 30. Photo credit: Sean Merlin
Students pose during their "Mask-erade" event held on the lakeside patio on Friday, Oct. 30.
Students pose during their "Mask-erade" event held on the lakeside patio on Friday, Oct. 30. Photo credit: Sean Merlin

A group of students came together on Friday, Oct. 30, to hold what they’ve named a “Mask-erade” at the Lakeside stage to bring awareness to and promote safe social practices, such as mask-wearing, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a part of art professor Xavier Cortada’s socially-engaged art class, students were tasked with creating an interactive art piece that would help solve their chosen problem: students disregarding Covid-19 regulations.

To do this, students in the class came up with a project that they titled CAPE, which stands for “‘Canes Are Protecting Everyone.”

“Our mission is to first expand and grow the efforts of public health ambassadors on-campus but also off-campus, and try to reframe the way that people see social distancing and mask-wearing, but also come up with alternatives to parties, which are often causes of the virus spread,” said Scylla Blervacq, a senior majoring in health science, who is also a student in the socially-engaged art class and participated in the “mask-erade.”

For this event, Blervacq and other students in the class dressed up in formal wear, and along with their mandatory face coverings, wore additional masks with holes over their eyes to mimic those of actual masquerade masks.

“It reminded people of a masquerade and of heroes and we want everyone to be heroes on campus, not just the public health ambassadors,” Blervacq said. “We want everyone to be accountable for their actions and try to protect the campus and our fellow ‘Canes.”

The group said they felt that their event was a success and that they were able to reach some students, especially as they read out the names of the people who have died from Covid-19.

Going forward, CAPE is planning two more events as a part of their project. One will be a panel over Zoom on Nov. 11 at 4:30 p.m, where students affected by the pandemic will be able to talk with each other about how it has affected them.

“It will be a good opportunity for people to know they’re not alone in this Covid world where we don’t really know what’s going on,” said Jamie Schmidt, a junior majoring in music who is also enrolled in the class. “I feel like anxiety has been heightened for so many people.”

Schmidt’s comments about anxiety echo others made by his classmates and other UM students.

“The university sends a lot of data on what is happening and the cases at UM and they tell us to be careful, but we don’t really know how the students are really feeling,” Blervacq said. “There aren’t many platforms, I feel, that exist right now for students at UM to share how they’ve been feeling with this whole pandemic, so we wanted to do that.”

The third and final event for CAPE will take place on Nov. 19 at 8:00 p.m. over Zoom. They are planning an event tentatively titled the “Alternative Party.” This event will be a night of music that brings together local artists to perform and encourages students and their families to celebrate the end of the semester in compliance with Covid-19 regulations.

Cortada highlighted the importance of this final event and the dangers of the alternative.

“The course ends with a project where they literally ask [students] to not bring it back home to Thanksgiving dinner and grandma,” Cortada said. “They have an alternative party, instead of going into Wynwood on the last evening before boarding a plane and spending two months with their most beloved family members.”

Besides being a professor at UM, Cortada is also an artist in the Miami area, where he works to highlight the growing climate crisis and other environmental issues. Often collaborating with scientists and professionals across an array of disciplines, Cortada recognizes the power that socially-engaged art possesses.

“Art is something that we have been doing as a society since we started our mass migrations. Art was a conduit to move us forward,” Cortada said. “What I try to do as an artist and a faculty member who teaches the socially engaged art class in the art department, is to teach my students they can use the power of art and its elasticity.”

His goal for the class was to allow students to create a project that would allow them to use art’s elasticity across disciplines to engage others in solving a problem like the ongoing pandemic. In past semesters, Cortada centered his socially-engaged art class around climate change, and while he says the pandemic has been greatly exacerbated by the climate crisis, it was important for the students to focus on the pandemic itself and its impact on campus.

“The biggest problem to solve was the pandemic, and the most natural audience they had was their peers,” Cortada said.

Students say they feel that his class has allowed them to take action and make a difference in their community during this pandemic.

“We didn’t know that it was going to be about Covid, but when we found out I was really happy because it is a really big issue,” Blervacq said. “It is a way for us to do something and influence how people behave on-campus and off-campus and try to protect our health and those around us.”

They have also gained a better understanding of socially-engaged art and how it can help other students understand the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our focus, especially with the coronavirus project, is something that’s so scientific, has become so insanely political, so it’s being able to take the science and the politics out of it for a second and just make it human,” Schmidt said. “By making it human to the students, that’s how we’re trying to reframe people’s views.”

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