Tati Tung | Art that teaches How to Not Wear a Mask

Tati Tung’s son is quick to point out which painting is of him. He proudly points to an orange water-colour painting of him making a face, a mask wrapped around his pursed lips.

He continues through the exhibit, letting visitors know which images are of him, which are of his mother and which are his favourites.

 Tung is one of the many artists whose work is on display at Native Immigrant, a nonprofit art collective in Notre-Dame-de-Grace whose mission is to give space to immigrant and First Nations artists.

How to Not Wear A Mask features a series of watercolour paintings of people wearing disposable masks as earrings, hair accessories and bowties. It’s a way for people to show their appreciation for the role masks have played during the pandemic. Paintings and sculptures also let people explore their place in society and put a lighter spin on a sensitive topic. 

Photo of art by Tati Tung

Tung explained that her work refers to a time when “We all had to wear masks, but it was not very absorbed by the population yet.” People wore masks under their noses or not at all. 

She said, “The way I see it, wearing a mask is a social effort. It is something that you do for yourself and you do for everybody.”

Tung finds her place as an artist

The masks are always painted blue in reference to the colour of clothing commonly worn in health institutions. It serves as a reminder of the critical role health care workers have played over the past two years. 

To get the reference images, Tung went to social media. She asked her Instagram followers to send her an image of how “not to wear a mask” with the promise that if they sent her an original idea, she would paint it. 

“Then I started to make this collection,” she said. “It was wonderful! We had a lot of people be very kind, very generous with photos. A lot of them were very funny and some very creative.”

Photo of art by Tati Tung

This is Tung’s first exhibition.

She’s a “citizen of the world” who was born Brazilian but is of Chinese, Hungarian, and Portuguese origins. Seven years ago, she moved from her home country, where she worked as a research psychologist, to Montréal.

She moved to the city to learn french and decided to pursue something that she has always loved: art. 

Before falling in love with watercolours, Tung worked with sumi-e, a form of ink brush painting common in parts of Asia. 

“It was just magical because it was the same relationship of the water with the paper with the brushstrokes and the colours that I had with that Asian way of painting,” she said. “There’s something about how you have to deal with water. It is unpredictable and magical. It’s a communication between the paper, you and the water. And something between that creates the art.”

Photo of watercolours

Masks and stained glass

The exhibit also features art from Cristian Zaelzer, Katja R. Philipp, Jihane Mossalim, Agata Kozanecka, Yvon Villeneuve, Claudia Almansa and Lowil Diocson Yap.

Zaelzer is a neuroscientist, artist and curator of the exhibit. He said that the idea of the exhibit is to look at masks in a more humorous way.

“I thought that the subject was pretty contemporary and something that we wanted to talk about,” he said. “Let’s bring these artists to speak their point of view about the use of masks and what they feel about. It can be positive can be negative. The idea is to generate a dialogue.”

As a neuroscientist, Zaelzer likes to incorporate science into his work. He created a series of masks titled “Structural Solutions” made of stained glass. They represent the fragility between human beings and the ecosystem that provoked the virus as well as the health care system that was ill-prepared for the pandemic. 

“Over the masks made of glass, I painted different molecules and proteins related to the Coronavirus to represent how science, during these two years happened extremely fast,” he said. “Because we are all advocates to try to solve the problem.”

Photo of stained glass

Illustrations by David Goodsell, a molecular biologist, inspired the yellow mask “Virus”. Zaelzer took inspiration from the Spike Protein that protrudes from the capsid of the SARS-CoV2 virus to create “Target” and finally, “Vaccine”, marked by its lavender colour, represents the creation of a vaccine based on structural information collected from the virus. 

“In a year, we have a vaccine, which has never before been done so quickly and so fast,” he said. “So it’s a way to talk a little bit about that hope that we can find in working together to solve a problem and find solutions.”

How to Not Wear A Mask will be on display from March 15th to April 10th, 2022.

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