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Facemask Diplomacy in the Age of COVID

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December 17, 2020

Let’s face it: as we continue to fight COVID-19 together, masks have become an essential facet of everyday life. And in these trying times, they are also an art form; the latest instance of human ingenuity; an expression of self, of values, and of the search for beauty and meaning in the midst of a pandemic that has challenged many of us.

That is why the Atlanta-based Consulate General of Canada to the Southeastern United States brought masks to the world of U.S.-Canada relations. “Facemask Diplomacy” was born when the team embraced an array of stunning designs by Oscardo, a Toronto, Ontario-based company that sells products with Indigenous motifs.

Sent to key partners across the region to promote the Canada-Southeast United States relationship, the masks have become the mission’s key 2020 advocacy tool. The face coverings have been a hit! On social media, many of the Atlanta-based Consulate’s partners have posted pictures of themselves wearing the colourful masks.

Besides promoting COVID-19 safety and cross-border harmony, the Oscardo masks also invite the wearer to learn and celebrate Canadian Indigenous history. While the relationship between the Canadian government and the Indigenous peoples has not always been a positive one, as we recognize the errors of the past and continue to work together to build a better future for all, this Facemask Diplomacy allows the Atlanta Consulate to showcase the rich variety of cultures and traditions of the 1.6 million Indigenous people living in Canada today.

Each mask is accompanied by a postcard which tells the story of the artist and the eye-catching art which embodies Canadian Indigenous art, culture, and traditional knowledge.

Francis Dick’s Hummingbird Mask is an ode to the majestic and magical little creature, “spiritual guides that carry a blessing in each visit”. Currently living in Victoria, British Columbia, Francis is a contemporary Native artist and a member of the Kwakwaka-waa’wakw Nation. Her art is internationally-renowned.

Metis artist Leah Dorian’s richly indigo-toned Breath of Life honors our breath, the “sacred vessel that carries our voice”. The mask represents deeper wisdom: “When words are shared with loving positive energy, our world is greatly impacted.”

Odawa-Pottawotami artist James Jacko’s Medicine Turtle captures the sacred nature of this creature in Indigenous culture. The masked version carries the four colors of the medicine wheel, symbolizing important elements that can vary by tribe.

Oscardo has partnered with Canadian and First Nations Artists to creative authentic, distinctive products since 2003. The company ensures that original artwork is approved by each artist or estate before production. Royalties are paid to artists or their estates for each product sold.

No one could have foreseen the facemask becoming part of mainstream life. But thanks to the vision of one Canadian company, and the captivating Indigenous art and meaning it has vividly brought to life, in this tumultuous year, facemasks have become a signifier of beauty and cultural heritage.