The Meaning of Masks in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Comparative Study of Depictions of Mask-Wearing in Public Visual Arts in Sub-Saharan Africa and the UK
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In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, many countries have made wearing face masks mandatory in public spaces. This research explores the role of visual arts in understanding the characteristics of masks as socially imbued objects, the multiple meanings they convey, and the influences shaping how these meanings change over time. This understanding is of critical importance in informing better comprehension of the challenges related to uptake and promoting humane innovations in response to the pandemic. Drawing on a comparative study of sub-Saharan Africa and the UK, the research focuses on street and digital public art as important spaces for scrutinizing public policy, discourse, and debate in emergency responses to COVID-19. It employs digital ethnography, nethnography, online interviews, and citizen social science to document and examine depictions of mask-wearing, the cultural meanings of masks, and the significance of visual arts in public debate, community building, resilience, and recovery.

Humanities Influences
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Durham University
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cheryl.mcewan [at]

Durham, England, UK