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This art exhibit is connecting strangers from behind their masks

self portrait
Posted at 2:59 PM, Oct 29, 2021

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — After nearly two years of the pandemic, a new art exhibit is hoping to reconnect strangers from behind their masks, at a time when museums are hoping to regain visitors who might have stayed away because of COVID-19.

Oliver Barker is the director of the Cape Ann Museum. Tucked away in the historic fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, it's a place that inspired the works of great artists like Edward Hopper.

"Art has a really central role in all of our lives," Barker said.

Barker is surrounded by a myriad of self-portraits of all shapes and sizes. Looking around the museum it does not take a highly-seasoned art critic to see these portraits were not commissioned by any famous American artist.

Instead, they were created by average, everyday Americans, like Katie Brinkman, who lives in Gloucester with her partner and two stepkids.

"I wanted to play with the materials and the colors, and have fun with the artistic process of it," she said.

The installation is called “Quilted Together: An Exhibit of Community." People from all walks of life were given an 8-by-8 inch sheet of paper, a mirror and some pastels.

Nearly 600 self-portraits were eventually returned and have now been put up as part of the exhibit. Each one is a powerful images of self-expression.

The goal of the exhibit is to bring strangers face back to life. At a time when so many of us are often still hidden behind masks because of COVID-19.

"To me, what is particularly powerful about this is we’ve all gotten use to seeing one another wearing our masks, and we are now having this opportunity to see ourselves fresh," Barker said.

It comes at a time when museums are trying to draw new visitors in. Because of the pandemic, the world’s 100 most-visited art museums saw attendance drop by 77% in 2020. The numbers are rebounding but museums are having to reinvent themselves with new exhibits like this one to excite visitors into returning.

"I look around here and I see a lot of joy around the room and a lot of hope," Barker said.

This exhibit is only temporary. Eventually, these self-portraits will all be returned to the people who painted them. However, Oliver Barker hopes that the lasting impact of this art will be permanent.