Credit: SAGA’s Gift Shop Manager Barbie Warwick wearing The Summons while sketching in Facing Time exhibit. Photo by Pardeep Singh
Collaborative Face Masks Mark a Year of Pandemic Life
Learn about “The Summons” by Debbie Westergaard Tuepah and Renée Sarojini Saklikar.
Surrey, BC – Surrey-based artist Debbie Westergaard Tuepah and Surrey’s first Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2018 Renée Sarojini Saklikar have teamed up to create non-medical, three-layered face masks with adjustable nose pieces and ear straps titled “The Summons,” available to purchase from Surrey Art Gallery Association’s online gift shop.
Commissioned by Surrey Art Gallery, the artists began with a conversation last fall about how to define this lived moment that brought shared insights and discovery. Tuepah presented a photo of a magnolia flower cultivated from her garden and Saklikar offered a poem, “The Summons,” from her long poem series The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns (THOT J BAP) forthcoming as a multi-volume book.
Tuepah says she was drawn to the magnolia because of its history as an ancient flowering plant. “I’m fascinated by things have been here a while and survived,” she says. “For me, the magnolia operates as a signifier of hope, resilience, and beauty in the midst of chaos. It supports the belief that there will be an end, or at least control over, this COVID event and that we will survive the experience.”
The image of the magnolia also resonated with Saklikar, whose poem envisions life after a series of five ecological disasters, including a bio-contagion. The fragment of text on the mask is from the first book from THOT J BAP called Bramah and the Beggar Boy that will be released this year with Nightwood Editions.
Saklikar has been writing her sci-fi poetry epic for 10 years, long before COVID-19 emerged. She says it was a strange experience writing about a band of survivors surviving when lockdown happened last spring. “It’s like the world caught up with my imagination,” she says.
For both artists, the masks hold space for a variety of emotions. It touches close to home as they each have had family members with significant health challenges during the pandemic. “It was very healing for me to do this,” says Saklikar, referring to working on the mask.
The mask honours the cycles of change and transformation that people are individually and collectively going through. Alanna Edwards, Education and Engagement Coordinator at Surrey Art Gallery who commissioned Tuepah and Saklikar, says, “Just like the magnolia flower and the promise of spring, we will bloom again and again.”
For $15, the face masks are available for purchase at Surrey Art Gallery Association’s online gift shop at sagabc.com. All proceeds support the Surrey Art Gallery Association.
About Renée Sarojini Saklikar
Trained as a lawyer, Renée Sarojini Saklikar Saklikar is an instructor for Simon Fraser University and Vancouver Community College.
Passionate about storytelling, she offers writing coach services and loves helping others find their creative voice. Saklikar’s poetry practice includes collaborations with visual artists and musicians and her first book was adapted into an opera by Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble.
Her books include children of air india, which won the Canadian Authors Association Poetry Prize, and Listening to the Bees, co-authored with Dr. Mark Winston, which won the 2019 Gold Medal Independent Publishers Book Award, Environment/Ecology.
About Debbie Westergaard Tuepah
Debbie Westergaard Tuepah is an artist who works predominantly in sculpture, installation, and community engagement.
Interrogating data and mass media as points of origin, her work considers the conceptual and embodied experience of information and materials in relation to contemporary issues, events, and the overall precariousness of the human condition.
In 2011, Tuepah received a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design where she was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence and Outstanding Work. She is a founding member of the curatorial collective AgentC Projects and has exhibited across North America.
About Surrey Art Gallery Association
Surrey Art Gallery Association (SAGA) is a non-profit society that offers its members the opportunity to participate in and respond to contemporary art and be part of a community that actively supports Surrey Art Gallery.
About Surrey Art Gallery
Internationally recognized for its award-winning programs, Surrey Art Gallery, located at 13750 88 Avenue in Surrey on the unceded territories of the Salish Peoples, including the q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ (Kwantlen), and Semiahma (Semiahmoo) nations, is the second largest public art museum in Metro Vancouver. Founded in 1975, the Gallery presents contemporary art by local, national, and international artists, including digital and audio art.
City of Surrey
Surrey Art Gallery & Surrey Public Art, Culture Division