Giant quilt made of masks chronicles 'struggles and triumphs' amid pandemic

A free community art project was launched last fall to highlight the experiences of individuals who’ve undergone harsh experiences and triumphs during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the form of a mask and a big quilt.

Community art project highlights experiences people have faced throughout the pandemic

Brenda Reid is the outreach coordinator of the 'From Behind the Mask' project, which launched last October. It can be seen at the Homer Watson House and Gallery in Kitchener. (Submitted by Brenda Reid/Eric O'Neil)

A giant, community-made quilt is back on display this week at Homer Watson House and Gallery in Kitchener after the province moved into Step 3 of it's reopening plan, allowing art galleries and museums to open to the public once again.

From Behind the Mask,  which was launched last October, is a project that highlights the unique experiences that individuals in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge region have faced throughout the pandemic.

The goal is to bring people together and create an art piece that will remain as a memorial to the inequalities many people faced over the past 18 months . It also promotes healing.

"[The project] operates under the idea that every person has a unique life experience [and] set of circumstances that remains true in the pandemic," said project outreach coordinator Brenda Reid. 

"It helps us see other people's point of views, struggles and triumphs."

Reid said the response was overwhelming. So far there have been 568 blocks submitted.

The quilt blocks are made of masks that are two-sided. One side is a drawing and the other side is a written reflection.

The quilts were designed and decorated by a wide range of participants between the ages of two years old and 89 years old. (Submitted by Brenda Reid/Eric O'Neil)

There are spaces between the blocks to symbolize the physical space the public was mandated to take during the pandemic. The ties of the mask are what's holding the quilt together, which sends the message of a community holding onto each other, said Reid.

A quilt as an artifact of care

The inspiration for the project came to Reid while she was studying her masters of architecture at University of Waterloo last year. She spent time over the summer walking around and documenting the changes happening around the world, and her community. 

"I started to notice lots of signs on lawns and windows and sidewalk chalks, and all these messages that people were either writing to support each other or just to communicate," Reid said. 

Reid looked at the ways quilts were artifacts of care and found out about the communities that have already established quilt projects. She learned about the ways quilts were used for people to share their personal stories and helped create spaces for people to feel they belonged.

"I thought it was a really interesting idea to sort of bring these two [ideas] together and have it be a way that people could tell their stories in a more permanent and collective way," she said. 

"We could use this quilt to make space for these stories that maybe people aren't showing on the sidewalk, or weren't being sort of recognized by the media at the time." 

Reid designed the project for as many people as possible to participate. Participants have been as young as two years old to as old as 89. 

Materials for decorations were given to participants in order to design and create the masks to their own liking.

Once they were finished, Reid received the masks and with the help of volunteers, sewed the blocks together.

"I had a lot of volunteers helping me make these quilt ties, sewing them in and assembling the blocks," she said. 

Positive feedback from participants in the community

The community's response to Reid's initiative was positive. She recalls receiving notes of appreciation from participants.

"People [were] saying that they really enjoyed the project, and that they're really thankful to be a part of it," said Reid. 

For Reid, the big idea behind the project was to make pain a valid feeling, in order for people to understand that others have experiences and to build connections and empathy for one another. 

Reid said the project's goal was to portray and highlight different stories and perspectives from different people living through the pandemic. (Submitted by Brenda Reid/Eric O'Neil )

"For me this quilt, showing all these different stories and all these different perspectives, can help people understand that other people have different experiences just like in non-pandemic times," she said.

"We have all these feelings and realities — they're all valid. We can learn from each other and hopefully create more empathy toward one another."

The quilt will be shown at Homer Watson House and Gallery in Kitchener from now, until the end of August.


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