As It Happens

Why this N.Y. artist is spending the pandemic turning his meals into face masks

If Antonius Wiriadjaja has egg on his face, it's intentional. The New York artist has spent every day of the the pandemic making his food into face masks and posting them on his Instagram account, Foodmasku.

'Once I finish, I take it off and eat it,' says Antonius Wiriadjaja of his Instagram project Foodmasku

Here's how New Yorker Antonius Wiriadjaja describes his current art project: 'I make meals and then when I finish with the meals, I make them into facemasks and I put them on my face and I take a picture for Instagram.' (Foodmasku/Instagram )

Read Story Transcript

If Antonius Wiriadjaja has egg on his face, it's intentional.

The New York artist and arts professor has spent every day of the pandemic making his food into face masks and posting them on his Instagram account, Foodmasku.

Sometimes it's as as simple as strapping a cookie over his mouth. Other times it involves cobbling together elaborate systems in order to sport a taco or a grilled cheese sandwich without everything falling apart.

"I'm usually very hungry by the time I finish because they are actually my meals. Once I finish, I take it off and eat it," Wiriadjaja told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. 

"Except for sometimes they do fall on the floor. I have to admit, I have failures. And those ones I compost."

Wiriadjaja's Instagram account Foodmasku has more than 5,000 followers. (Foodmasku/Instagram )

The project began in the early days of the lockdown in New York City. COVID-19 cases were spiking, everything was shut down, and all his art shows were getting cancelled.

He was on a video call with some other artists to discuss their predicament, and one of the participants was playing around with Zoom's filters, transforming her face into a pickle. 

"I thought that was really interesting, so I took some kale and I put it on my face and it just brought out a good reaction," Wiriadjaja said.

"So the next day I put on a tortilla and I took a picture and put it on Instagram, and somebody said, 'Oh, that's really good, but can you make one out of lasagne? And I did that the next day. And then somebody said, 'I bet you can't make one out of noodles.' And I made the noodles mask, and it just kept going and going and going, and I just didn't stop."

Wiriadjaja says his Foodmasku art project has helped him learn how to cook. (Foodmasku/Instagram )

Since then, the account has blown up to more than 5,700 followers, and he recently got a shout-out in the New York Times. 

"I'm getting messages from people just saying how much they like my masks, and I'm just thrilled to be here," he said.

But it's not all fun and games. Wiriadjaja says there's an artistic vision behind the project.

"I was expressing, I guess, my anxiety and my worry and also my confusion. We didn't really know in the beginning of this shelter-in-place what we were supposed to do and what was keeping us safe and what was really dangerous. So I was trying my best to express it. And at the same time, it brought out a good reaction with my friends," he said.

It's also entirely in his artistic wheelhouse. Wiriadjaja says he often uses social media and selfies in his work.

For one of the most recent exhibits, he took daily photographs of his scars from when he survived a gunshot wound, starting on the day he was released from hospital, and ending on the first day of the criminal trial. 

"So I've had some experience with this idea of taking a photo every single day to express trauma and using that as a way to both heal and also to make others around me feel a little bit better about the trauma," he said.

Wiriadjaja says his favourite food mask is the sourdough, left, and his least favourite is mashed potatoes, right. (Foodmasku/Instagram )

Though he admits the skills he's learned from Foodmasku are a bit more hands on.

"I wasn't really a good cook at all. I live in New York, you know, I never cooked for myself, I think, for about seven years. And it helped me a lot with that and gave me something to do while I was staying at home," he said.

"My favourite, just because it was so hard to make, was a sourdough mask, I remember when somebody asked me to make it, I thought, 'Oh, sure, I can totally do that.' It took me about a month to figure out how to bake sourdough bread."

And his least favourite?

"I got asked to do mashed potatoes, and I will never do that again because I almost suffocated."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Richard Raycraft.

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