Art M.F.A. Student Shifts From Thesis Exhibition to COVID-19 Mask Making

The raw materials for making face masks for healthcare workers.
Photo Submitted

The raw materials for making face masks for healthcare workers.

Shelby Fleming has spent most of the academic year focused on her thesis exhibition for her Master of Fine Arts degree scheduled for late spring. But with the events of the COVID-19 crisis,  Fleming's priorities have shifted to a new normal.

Joining a group of more than 83 artists, Fleming is part of the COVID-19 Mask Maker Challenge hosted by Arkansas Arts and Fashion Forum. Fleming has made 30 pocket filter masks that will be used by healthcare workers and plans to make more.

Arkansas Arts and Fashion Forum partnered with professional healthcare workers to create the pattern ensuring the masks that are created will meet healthcare safety standards. The organization is providing fabric, instructions on how to make the masks and has drop off locations in Rogers and Springdale.

A graduate student in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, School of Art, Fleming's Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition, titled "Gut Feeling," was set to open March 30. However, the transition to online classes and postponement of all on-campus events this semester due to the COVID-19 outbreak postponed her exhibition until summer 2020.

"It feels surreal," Fleming said. "You do years' worth of planning to put together an exhibition and you try to speculate what could go wrong and how you can resolve certain situations. Like many other artists in my position I never imagined my exhibition would be postponed due to a pandemic."

Shelby Fleming dons one of the masks she sewed.In the midst of making masks, Fleming shared that she couldn't help but see how the current situation coincides with her current body of work in an unexpected way. Her MFA thesis exhibition, "Gut Feeling," is about the viewer's experience with their body. The forms in space reference the body while the physical curates space of the gallery.

When the exhibition opens she hopes the audience will consider their own body in relation to what is being seen through scale, sculptural placement and sensory experience.

With the new development of social distancing being added to everyone's lives she sees a new layer of context to the exhibition as everyone across the world is taking time to reflect on the string that connects us despite our differences and our bodies.

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