Patching together our collective view of pandemic life

Art reflects life. Right now, life goes through the coronavirus filter, a reality reflected in From Behind the Mask, a quilting project that looks to gather a collective take on the pandemic.

Launched in October, the project is documenting the lives of people in the region during the pandemic, showing how we have all been affected by the virus, lockdown, and reduced socialization. The goal is to create a quilt block depicting one’s challenges, a piece that will be joined with others into the shape of a homemade mask to be put on display at the Homer Watson House and Gallery. 

Brenda Reid came up with the idea for a “quilt of experience” over the summer.

“I’m a masters of architecture student and I’m doing a thesis on care and architecture. And along the way, I looked at quilts as an artifact of care. With the pandemic going on, and looking at other sorts of community quilt projects at the time, I thought about what it could be like to make a COVID community quilt,” she explained.

“Everyone has an opportunity to author one of the blocks. The prompt for the block is ‘what has changed the most for you during COVID-19?’ People can interpret that a number of different ways. We’ve had funny blocks, sad, very sad blocks, pensive – whether it’s illustrating a long period of time, or just one event, people can sort of do whatever they want to,” said Reid, noting her own block, which she recently finished, is an abstract piece representing time and uncertainty. 

It’s a project that’s open to everyone, as Reid notes her own quilting skills were rather limited.

“I learned a little bit from my mom when I was much younger. And she learned from my dad’s mom – she taught her quilting when we were very young kids. So it’s sort of a little bit passed on, and she’s been helping – she helped me with figuring out how this quilt would go together a little bit different and the structure – and then amping up my sewing skills over the course of multiple lockdowns,” Reid explained of jumping back into the fray. 

Since launching the project, Reid says the response has been great. “I’ve not only received a lot of messages, [but] have a pretty busy Instagram profile that I keep going, getting to talk to actual people. I do everything online and through other organizations because of the pandemic –  it’s been really nice to actually hear from people,” she said.

“Some people have been slipping in a card or a note into the kit that they submit, so I get to hear from people. I’ve put out over 1,000 kits to the public, so people definitely are picking them up. I think things are getting exciting, especially now that we have an exhibition planned.”  

An exhibition wasn’t originally part of Reid’s vision for the project, but she’s embraced the concept.

“I think they found me through Instagram. And they actually reached out to see about showing part of the quilt, or the quilt at a certain period of time. I believe they had a cancellation due to COVID in their exhibition schedule, and it sort of just worked out really well timing wise for this project, that we get to show it there this summer,” she said of the collaboration with the Homer Watson House and Gallery.

From Behind the Mask: A Community of COVID-19 Stories is targeted to those living, working and attending school throughout the region, but Reid has expanded those boundaries: “If you self-identify as part of the community, you’re welcome to submit a block.” 

She opted to expand the area after receiving requests from all over the country.

The project also caught the attention of the Waterloo Arts Fund, which last month awarded $5,000 to help cover the cost of shipping supplies, the exhibition and other expenses.

The final day to submit patches is April 30, but Reid encourages people to send them sooner if they can, adding she looks forward to seeing the kits she’s sent out come back her way.

As blocks are received, digital images are being uploaded to the webpage of the project into a ‘digital quilt.’

“We’re hoping to start putting up some quilt segments in different locations. So hopefully that will also encourage people to submit them early and get theirs out in the public sooner.”

To learn more information about the project click here or follow the project’s Instagram account for more recent updates.

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