In April 2020, artist Lucien Shapiro and myself explored a profound and important element of quarantine: masks. We both have been making masks for years (he makes elaborate masks out of found materials, I make masks out of silk) yet now masks have transformed into a controversial but important element of society. Wearing (or not wearing!) masks is political: it’s an act of prevention or rebellion. Where you stand says a lot about you and what you believe. 

While physical masks are a mandatory part of life, there is also a symbolism to mask-wearing. We all wear masks everyday. Masks are seen and unseen. 

This is our collaborative quarantine project, “Mask Memoir.” A visual diary that looks at masks and the ways they shape who we are. All looks were photographed by myself in and around our home in Mt. Shasta, CA. April 2020.

Keep reading to learn more...

 1. Why do you make masks? 

Lucien: Mask making initially was a progression from my artworks that was primarily figurative, and began 9 -10 years ago. I had been processing a break up and the many masks we wear, like honesty, truth etc. I created them as a projection of someone else not realizing they were actually of myself until later down the road. Afterwards they progressed and transformed into a way for me to enter film and performance. As a character I could remove myself from the piece and fully become the lesson I wanted to teach or learn. We all seem to be hiding from ourselves. Maybe now is the time to completely emerge and become what we have always been.

Kelly: I started making masks for a practical reason: traveling and Coachella. I noticed that when I travelled to Asia everyone wore masks for protection and hygiene. Why not make them cute and comfortable? Also… and this is sorta embarrassing… Coachella. It’s super dusty at the festival, I would cough up black shit, and it’s also a really hot desert so wearing silk was a perfect choice. Fashion baby. Obviously I had no idea what masks would transform into. I keep thinking about this quote: "Success is when luck meets preparation." I was lucky masks hit off, but also prepared... 

2. What is your Why?

Lucien: My Why is a never-ending urge to crack myself open deeper and deeper to see what pours out. That’s what art shows me in the solitude of creation. Solving problems and battling oneself to create this thing of beauty or ugliness. I guess that’s why I love art making- it can be anything, and technically there are no rules in creation. Only when you enter the “art world” do the rules start stacking. That creates a whole different Why that I won’t get into. But I love cracking things open, picking apart, breaking down, always to rebuild. Purer or more realized than before. Progression.

Kelly: I always ask others this but have a hard time answering myself. My Why is storytelling and connection. I receive a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose when others connect to Ziran. I value the cultural heritage of our silk so deeply that when other people truly understand it I am elated beyond words. When we get all these different moving parts and people to flow together and become a reality (like on a photoshoot or at the silk farm) and we create magic together...  I get high and my heart explodes with exaltation. This vision-turned-reality pushes me to get back on the rollercoaster and keep riding. Up and down, up and down…  

3. What have you learned in quarantine? As individuals and together?

    Lucien: I think my whole life has prepared me for quarantine. I’m kind of a hermit and when I’m not exploring I’m just working. Since exploring was cancelled, hermit work-mode was perfect. I never thought I would find a human that worked like me. Quarantine also confirmed my deep love and life together with Kelly. If we can be on lock 24 hours a day for months in the middle of a pandemic, we can probably handle anything that comes our way. We are a good team, we push each other to do better, not only with creation but with diet, exercise, health, etc. I’m always grateful for the path, timing, and now, lastly, her…

    Kelly: I have learned how lucky I am to be in quarantine doing what I love with the person I love. Everything works on my body and my mind is sharp. Who the fuck cares I can’t go out or party at a bar? Quarantine has forced me to strip away all these extra elements of self and really see who I am, for real. I welcome the challenge to grow, pivot, and learn. 

    Together with Lucien, we have learned that we are different in many ways but similar too. We are both workaholics but also need breaks, like making meals together or going on walks. We push one another to think bigger and do better. We are always calling each other out. It keeps things interesting and stagnant complacency is our mutual enemy. 

    4. How do you balance one another? Move through challenges?

    Lucien: Well I suppose I think more ahead, and am more aware of the next, and need to discuss the plan. Kelly is more like go with the flow... but like a tornado flow... so I try to prepare for the speed coming. We talk through most challenges. We know each other pretty well so it’s just being each other’s rock during the segment that a rock is needed. Then role reversal, ya know. 

    Kelly: I am all over the place, fast, spontaneous, curious, and explosive. Sometimes I walk into Lucien’s studio and without knowing what’s happening I instantly break a few things. Lucien is meticulous, contemplative, and methodical. I love this about him. Our differences can cause tension and disagreements but we both come from a place of mutual respect and love so we just push through. That's life. 


    5. What was your favorite outcome from the project? Why? 

    Lucien: That’s a difficult question because I like them all. But my favorite outcome was the process. Everything leading up to the shoot. Choosing masks, styling, etc. I thought they all came out pretty good especially for an old point n shoot film camera. I’m pleased with it overall. Some are scarier than I’d like but we are in scary times. Light only lives if there is dark. 

    Kelly: What Lucien said. I don’t consider myself a photographer but I have fun taking photos. I like directing behind the camera and hearing that “click” and knowing ooooh that one will be a BANGERRRR.

    6. Will you do another version where you switch roles? 

    Lucien: Yes, we were trying to switch so Kelly would be in front of the camera and I would be behind, but it hasn’t happened yet. Since we shot myself in Mt Shasta, I think we will reverse roles in Los Angeles during the next quarantine. Which if my calculations are correct should be around Nov - Dec. 

    Kelly: It seems like masks will be in our lives for a long time, so yes.

    7. What's next? 

    Lucien: I suppose we have a few tricks up our sleeves. Kelly has been spearheading my new project called the Mt Shasta School Of Sculpture. She does the logistics, web, everything, and I’m pretty much the artist behind it. I’m working on some new, very large, protection objects and portals too. We may have an automobile accessory drop, inspired by our first child Lil Fugu. If there’s one thing we are not asking each other it’s what’s next. Cause we both have lots of nexts....

    Kelly: I am working on a few collabs with artists, a wellness collection, new prints, and managing my day to day. I pack and ship all orders. There is a lot going on but it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like actualizing my dream. I’m so grateful. If you made it this far CONGRATULATIONS! All our love. 

    Creative Direction: Kelly Wang Shanahan + Lucien Shapiro
    Photography: Kelly Wang Shanahan (@theziran)
    Model: Lucien Shapiro (@lucienshapiro)
    Mt. Shasta, CA. April 2020.