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In 2020, the facemask became the world’s hottest accessory. Amidst the deluge of ornamental offerings, Ai Weiwei issued a series of hand-printed facemasks that directly benefitted charities like Médecins Sans Frontières, eventually raising over a million dollars.

Charitable endeavors are one of the few things that motivate the reclusive Weiwei to release physical goods, besides Chinese New Year, and Hawai’i Contemporary is one such cause that Weiwei believes in. Well, that and the Hawai’i Triennial 2022, Hawai’ian conservation and The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai’i and Palmyra Chapter.

Thus, Weiwei has issued a new series of facemasks to benefit all of the above organizations, each individually made in partnership with local nonprofit Honolulu Printmakers and graced by artwork designed by Weiwei to reflect local Hawai’ian flora and fauna.

The masks sold last year were artistic, yes, but they were also as wearable as any facemask out there. Weiwei’s new masks are really not meant to be worn: retailing for $100 apiece, $1,150 for a set of three, and $2,300 for a set of ten, these are artworks through and through.

These facemasks go on the wall; regular masks should still go on your face.

“The masks are representative of one of the most traumatic events in our lifetime – a period of time that tempered human exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources,” said Ai Weiwei. “This collection allows us to help the islands of Hawai’i, a community that is directly impacted by increasing environmental concerns on a global level.”

The Way Follows Nature, Weiwei’s mask collection, is part of the international “Pacific Century – E Ho‘omau no Moananuiākea” hosted by Hawai’i Contemporary. Weiwei’s 10 mask designs speak to the way that climate change is eroding Hawai’ian coastlines and plant life, with illustrations inspired by subjects as diverse as Hāpu’u (giant tree ferns), ta’ape (bluestripe snapper), and the ‘ōhiʻa lehua (a sturdy tree traditionally used to build homes and furnishings).

“Art is a conversation,” said Hawai‘i Contemporary Executive Director, Katherine Don. “These masks memorialize a significant moment in time and provide reflection on the human effect on the environment.”

“Ai Weiwei’s masterful and thought-provoking art challenges each and every one of us to become part of the solution,” continued Matthew Ramsey, Hawai‘i program director of Conservation International Hawaiʻi.

Why are facemasks Weiwei’s medium of choice for this message? I take it as a mirroring of the way that COVID-19 has impaired humans’ day-to-day life, much like how humanity’s industrial growth has affected the health of natural resources.

All of the facemasks are available until October 2021 on Hawaii Contemporary’s website


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