Today, the world's population has been asked to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to minimise the transmission of the virus. Medical masks, plain masks and patterned masks have all become widespread in every corner of the globe.

The history of the mask is a long and diverse one. The earliest masks were used in rituals, ceremonies and theatre. They could be made from a variety of materials such as wood, fabric and clay. Masks have been created to offer protection, disguise and entertainment. In religion, the Spanish mantilla, the Catholic veil and the Muslim niqab and burka are a few examples of the diversity of face coverings worn for religious purposes. 

In collaboration with the Yale Center for British Art and the Smithsonian, Masking Faces: The Many Meanings of Face Coverings explores a variety of ways masks and face coverings in general have been used throughout the centuries. By looking at those histories, we can form a better understanding of their contemporary uses and think critically about their use or misuse in our society. 

Whilst viewing the exhibition, we ask you to consider your own experience of wearing a mask during the pandemic.

Perhaps your response to wearing one has been shaped by your historical or religious understanding of its uses, or have other factors come into play?

Click HERE to begin your journey through the exhibition.