Grant-funded art project at BART celebrates rich culture of mask-wearing


Grant-funded art project at BART celebrates rich culture of mask-wearing


Pop-up mask giveaway events to meet the artist will be held Thursday Sept 24 and Thursday Oct 1 at Civic Center Station from 10am-Noon.

BART Senior Web Producer

Berkeley multidisciplinary artist Tosha Stimage wants to change the way we think of masks.

In partnership with BART, Stimage’s art will be featured on posters on BART trains and in special events, like a pop-up, grab-and-go mask giveaway this Thursday at Civic Center Station.

Her project is produced by Smart Growth America with Forecast Public Art, and funded by the Kresge Foundation and the National Endowment for Tosha Stimagethe Arts.

“With Covid-19, mask wearing has been attached to disease and death. The project is about trying to think of masks in a different context,” said Stimage, pictured at right (photo courtesy of Tosha Stimage).

The posters show masks from around the world, like the striking geometric Bwa sun masks of Burkino Faso, in Western Africa, which celebrate the harvest season; or the brightly painted, richly symbolic masks of China's Bejing Opera.

While the art forms depicted are centuries old, the tagline of the posters is decidedly modern. Stimage explains the title ‘’We Been On” – “as more of a cultural slang, like a friend might say to you, ‘Let me put you on to this’ … ‘We Been On’ means it’s knowledge that’s already been had,” as in saying, we’ve been on to this idea for some time.

Whether storytelling or celebrating culture, masks have always served a useful function. This time they can help us protect each other,” the posters state.

At the event at Civic Center, where face masks and social distancing will be required, Stimage will provide free packets assembled with artwork on pre-stamped post cards, face masks that can be decorated at home, and disinfecting wipes. There will also be a video compilation playing on loop, and free personal hand straps to be given out while supplies last. The event will be in the free area on the concourse level at the 8th and Market entrance.

“For the pop-up I wanted to be able to give out something physical as a proxy for conversation,” she said. “A lot of people have not been able to be social in the same ways they were before the pandemic. I thought art postcards could support the U.S. Postal Service and also help people to connect with others.”

Masks Peking Opera House

Above: Peking Opera Mask, from China

“This has been such a difficult time for so many people,” she said. “I hope to encourage people to find ways to bring some beauty into this experience we are all navigating."

Smart Growth America is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that awarded funding to BART and four other transportation agencies from nearly 200 applications. Each of the projects addresses pandemic-related transportation challenges and systemic inequities.

BART's Communications Department and its Arts Program jointly applied for the grant to pilot "a community-infrmed intervention strategy to deconstruct racial prejdices worsened by Covid-19, and normalize the culture of mask-wearing on transit," according to the grant application 

“At this incredibly unique, strange moment, public transportation is one of the only places where we’re interacting with other people, outside of the same faces we see every day” in our shelter-at-home existence, said Ben Stone, Director of Arts and Culture for Smart Growth America. “Thinking about how that experience feels is really important. Public transit or any kind of infrastructure that moves people around needs to look and feel like it’s part of the community that it’s in, so people feel comfortable using it.”

Masks Bwa Sun Mask

Above: Bwa Sun Mask, from Burkina Faso

Stimage herself is a longtime BART rider and hopes the posters will catch people’s attention, in a good way, and help them absorb the health and safety messaging behind the current mask requirements, which public health experts say is one of the most powerful ways to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.

“I’ve spent a lot of time drawing on the trains, meeting interesting people,” she said. “BART is helping people get to their jobs and feed their children and take care of their families. It is essential.”

Stimage wants to credit fellow artists Matthew Craven, whose work can be found on the post cards; Luis Pinto, for graphic design; and Cameron Granger, for the video compilation. “Hope is the thing,” she said. “If we have people sharing, we can keep the positivity and the care going on.”

Civic Center pop up

Civic Center pop up

Artist Tosha Stimage

Other "We Been On" posters

Lele Ngendee Hem Mask

Above: Lele/Ngeende Hem Mask, from Congo Republic

Teke-Tsaye Kidumu Mask

Above: Teke-Tsaye Kidumu Mask, from Gabon and Congo Republic

Dogon Donkey Mask

Above: Dogon Monkey Mask, from Mali and Burkina Faso

Olmec Mask

Above: Olmec Mask, from Mexico

Lambeyeque Funerary Mask

Above: Lambayeque (Sican) Funerary Mask, from Peru