Mir Jetha

"The Material-Media Histories of Maralinga"

Section MS7, Ibiye Camp

Keywords: environment, health, environment

Mask [noun]

a covering for all or part of the face, work as a disguise, or to amuse or frighten others a covering made of fibre or gauze fitting over the nose and mouth to protect against air pollutants, or worn to prevent infection of the wearer or (in surgery) of the patient (also masque) a face pack a likeness of a person’s face moulded or sculpted in clay or wax a manner or expression that hides one’s true character or feelings photography - a piece of material such as card used to cover part of an image that is not required when exposing a print entomology - the enlarged labium of a dragonfly larva, which can be extended to seize prey.

Today we inhabit a planet driven by a culture of consumerism and capitalism. This consumerist culture has resulted in an unsustainable consumption of natural resources and an inordinate amount of waste: 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into oceans every year (UN Environment 2018).

The first case of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) was detected on the 17th of November and linked back to a wholesale market in Wuhan, China. Several months later (in March), Europe became the next epicentre, with many governments making mask-wearing mandatory (on public transport and in enclosed spaces). This comes with the promise of a new kind of pollution - “Covid Waste”.

The face mask quickly became the world’s most coveted commodity, with searches for the item increasing by 496% between January and April. We currently operate within a context where the object has become a rather permanent accessory, with many stories and symbols - social, political, economic, environmental. Will it remain a permanent object we encounter within our daily lives?

This project seeks to explore the concept of Covid Waste and the environmental impact of the face mask. Disposable masks contain plastics which pollute water and can harm wildlife who eat them or become tangled in them. Latest figures for Britain from the Office of National Statistics suggested that 96% of adults who left their homes last week had worn a face covering. With the public being made to cover their faces, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of single-use masks are being dumped outdoors.

The act of compiling ultimately entailed photographing found masks on the streets of London. Over the course of the last three months, I collected over 1600 photographs of masks in London (myself and through friends) and a selection of them were used for the final output. The final project took on the form of a short film that echoes the work of Chris Marker and Arthur Jaffa through the collaging of images, sound and text. The aim was to highlight the sheer amount of waste on the streets, alongside a timeline of the mask (within the context of the pandemic) and news findings of animals impacted by covid waste.