If you ask my local supermarket about their pandemic strategy, a bleary-eyed cashier will respond with the name of one item: duct tape. Across the store, silvery gray X’s lay six feet apart, indicating the required distance between customers. One brave employee guards a stockpile of pandemic must-haves— hand sanitizer, toilet paper, Pop Tarts — ensuring no one leaves with more than their share.
For a short, skinny white girl, the lookout’s presence is extremely comforting. My mask, while secure and effective, boasts a pink, cartoon kitten nose, so I don’t exactly look like a threatening opponent. In a high-stakes, survival of the fittest race to grab paper towels, I’d go home empty-handed.
As I shuffle between duct tape markers, an enthusiastic wave catches my attention. A woman, arms full of cupcake mix, points to her own Artistic mask. It’s a blue and white floral pattern, and looks like a tiny quilt on the surface of her face. I flash her a quick smile, which, under the mask, just looks like wrinkles beneath my eyes. But she understood. I could tell. We direct our attention back to the X’s, hopping from section to section like pieces in an apocalyptic version of Monopoly, our mutual recognition of the moment’s absurdity hanging in the air.
Somewhere, before this tension-filled period of time, an Artist painted the outline of a cat’s nose on my thin cotton mask. I can’t imagine what possessed her to do such a thing, but I’m extraordinarily grateful.
In a grim, impersonal setting, the sketch sparked a brief connection between two human beings. A shelter from the pervasive paranoia, in the middle of its feeding ground.
When we watch the list of virus cases grow longer, it becomes harder to avoid feeling like a potential number on a screen. By definition, these statistics fail to capture the humanity behind each new case. The footage of empty, bleak streets and brawling shoppers only reinforce this debilitating lack of detail. A gap, widened by fear and competition, forms between human beings. In its best form, artwork fills these cracks.
From music and movies to even makeshift masks, products of creativity remind us that other people represent more than threats to our personal well-being.
This concept, while intuitive in times of ease, seems to fade into obscurity when sirens begin to wail. In such moments, handicrafts of all kinds surface to redeem the world in our eyes. The Artists, as Adrian Elmer says, remind “another human what it is to be human.”
As it turns out, Artists kickstart interpersonal connection without coercion. The creative impulse thrives anywhere human beings reside. In Italy, though confined to their houses, citizens stand on sun-drenched balconies to sing with their neighbors. Online, fans loyally attend live concerts and book releases, eager to connect with their fellow devotees. Somewhere, in an attempt to lend joy to this pandemic, an Artist is drawing a cartoon cat nose on a thin cotton mask. The contribution, though small and absurd, reminds us of our shared humanity.