With a Few Creative Touches, Pollution Masks Become Symbols of Hope

Maskbook invites people around the world to express their environmental anxieties.

"Save the World," by Anthony Memba from Kangemi, Nairobi, Kenya

Credit: Maskbook

Facebook’s number of monthly users recently hit 2 billion—a pretty impressive slice of the global population. But there’s a different type of social network out there fighting for all 7.5 billion of us. It’s called Maskbook, and its website describes it as “the first participatory, artistic, and citizen action project addressing the existing link between health, air pollution, and climate change.”

Maskbook invites people to use upcycled materials—anything from fern fronds to toy cars—to transform anti-pollution masks into symbols of solutions.

The project came out of the first Conclave of Art of Change 21—an international “eco-creation” meeting held the year before the 2015 COP 21 climate conference in Paris. While world leaders were in France to hash out the details of the landmark climate accord, 21 artists, entrepreneurs, and young environmentalists met to brainstorm positive actions on a more personal level. At the meeting, Chinese artist and photographer Wen Fang quipped, “We don’t have Facebook in China, but if we did it would be called Maskbook instead, because everyone wears masks.” Maskbook was born.

"Eco Worth," by Zahin Zmieb from Rabat, Morocco
Credit: Maskbook

Since its launch, the project has hosted 70-plus workshops around the globe and held 10 exhibitions of participants’ creations. “The mask is a universal symbol—every culture and civilization around the world has used the mask to express themselves and to tell a story about their own reality,” says Art of Change 21’s Erica Johnson.

The Maskbook website, which doubles as an online gallery, features more than 2,500 portraits from 50 countries. Inclusion—regardless of Internet access—is a central part of the project’s mission. Maskbook has traveled to Borneo to conduct a workshop with the indigenous Badjaos people and to Nairobi’s Kangemi slum, and it will soon go to the rainforest of Brazil to work with the Paresi tribe.

Maskbook’s organizers say it’s having a measurable effect wherever it goes. According to the project’s own post-workshop surveys, 86 percent of participants leave more optimistic about the power that individuals and communities have to effect change, with 70 percent saying they’ve been inspired to modify their daily behavior.

"Masbkook," by Sakina M’Sa from Paris, France
Credit: Maskbook

Alice Audouin, president of Art of Change 21, attributes Maskbook’s impact to its hands-on approach. “In French we have this expression, prendre en main son destin, which means taking destiny into your own hands,” she says. Audouin believes actively creating something helps generate momentum for further change.

Maskbook is heading to New York this September for Climate Week, and at the end of the year the project will host a series of workshops in India, home to 10 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.

But no matter where you happen to draw breath on this planet, you can make a DIY mask and upload your creation to the site. Get around? You can even become a “Mask-trotter” by bringing a kit along in your suitcase to share the experience with locals on your travels.

Check out the online gallery to see how others around the world are masking their feelings.

"Protect ourselves, protect the environment" by Seaside from Beijing, China
Credit: Maskbook

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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