Oct 26 2019
HKer’s masks & respirators for braving teargas hv become synonymous with our pro-democracy mvmt. We trace the art to see how the masks hv evolved in use, & w/ them how new heroes hv arisen from an ordinary ppl.
On 16 Jun, 2 mln HKers made a choice. Many put on their masks, and marched.
Most were your ordinary ‘peaceful’ protestor type, their masks the badly-fitting disposable variety - a legacy of SARS & later the☂ Mvmt; flimsy protection against both virus and Big Brother.
Since then, HKers have continued choosing to don their masks. There’re 2 main types used: 1st is disposable masks, usu. white/blue/black. 2nd is respirators (‘pig-snouts’) that tend to be depicted in bright pink. (Colors vary IRL by functionality, but let’s not go there.)
Disposable masks are associated w/ peaceful ‘woleifei’s, the ppl who don’t expect to get gassed. Their use is mostly to hide identities - we may not be able to enjoy our rights of assembly & speech w/out fear, but we’ll still brave what we have to to exercise them.
The respirators are associated w/ those at the teargas buffets. The distinctive pink you see in photos & art are particulate filters, for those in heavy industry in danger from ammonia & chlorine… not made for young ppl fighting for freedom, in danger from their own govt.
Even for frontliners the current setup wasn’t a necessity at first. Early pamphlet from Jun rec-ed disposable respirators gd enough for mild teargas. By Jul, materials hd bn thoroughly updated; we knew the fog & hellfire we’re up against. And still we chose to walk into it.
We still chose to walk into it, bcos the fog & hellfire was spreading, into our streets & homes. The respirators - & sometimes the face masks - are what allow us to get close enough to the gas & douse it out, to literally save our neighborhoods from pain & tears.
Gas masks hv bn vital to safety of journalists too. They didn’t start out in full gear, but as HKPF grew to greet them w/ teargas salutes, respirators became a necessity. For journos to uncover truth thru fog of war, they must be able to walk thru it first- and so, masks on.
The masks are HKers’ hard choices. The choice to fight for our freedoms of speech & assembly. The choice to protect our neighborhoods & homes. The choice to live in fear, but still, to live!… Choices which we only have to make because of the govt’s wilful incompetence.
So when the Anti-Mask Law came into effect on 5 Oct, HKers were livid. Our art rebelled and revelled in the farcical nature of our new reality - HKers sport ludicrous masks & makeup, mocking Lam’s govt. ‘Is this what you’re scared of? Me in my little hair mask? Well, good.’
From this pt, masks became less abt stripping of identity as declaration of one. Masks are displays of HKers’ defiance of unjust laws- frontliner w/ ‘pig snout’ or woleifei w/ Pooh mask- we’re in the same boat now. In our art, we are many, but we are also as one, resisting.
If this sounds a bit like the end of ‘V for Vendetta’… yes. The Guy Fawkes mask exploded in our protest art late Sep & never left, largely bcos HKers are sympathetic to the idea that a mask holds power. The power to defy, to unite… to become anonymous & unsung heroes.
But HKers are just an ordinary people. No one asked for this. No one enjoys the teargas buffets, and no one likes being behind a mask - they’re hot, sticky & uncomfortable…
We just happen to be born into a time of chaos. Which means we have certain responsibilities.
HKers are an ordinary ppl, disenfranchised yet still empowered. Turns out we’ve bn heroes all along, choosing from the start to put on our ill-fitting masks to bear our responsibilities to this age. And as mths wore on & we grew, we chose to do it, again & again & again.
HKers are an ordinary ppl who’ll resist w/ heroic courage, as regular ppl do in tough times. No matter what govt does, our defiant masks stay on- they allow us to heal, put out fires, shed light on the truth… & go on living our regular lives, as heroes do in tough times.
At the start of the mvt there were a lot of pamphlets on various respirator combos one can get for withstanding teargas, like the one below from Aug. We’ve seen these reappear in recent days, a sign that HKers are prepared to walk into the fire & smoke once again.