So this is a little art project I call “99 masks” of masks I photographed in situ while picking up litter during my daily strolls. Most of these are from my Austin neighborhood in Allandale, but there are also masks from other parts of town, San Marcos, San Antonio, and Fort Stockton.
I find masks interesting because discarded masks speak of discarded humanity—flailing in the flotsam of futility. Although haint blue surgical masks are most common, there’s variety from machine stamped to custom printed to homesewn. Even the humdrum haints twist and turn in contorted and interesting ways, sometimes broken, sometimes untouched, sometimes kissed with lipstick. Some speak of style while others speak of poverty (and love).
Sadly, these masks are everywhere, now part of our every day life and, accordingly, litter. While cotton masks will break down, the medical masks have polymer scrim cores that will take decades to hundreds of years to decompose. Remember: litter on the land is also litter in our waterways, and coastal litterpickers have reported masks as common as jellyfish in our oceans. Please dispose of your masks properly. This is art that shouldn’t be.