The Masks Cyclopaedia:
A Visual Typology of Face Masks Amidst Epidemic Times In Dutch Urbanscapes

Micro-scale matter such as dust particles and viruses has expanded the material culture of face masks being an urban apparatus. Masked crowds on teeming streets have been portrayed as the face of the pandemic, becoming a visual semiotic of urban landscapes amid the fear, which is invisible. Face masks are prevalent in East Asian cities where their technical metamorphosis into real-time stock data has changed urban systems. On the other hand, European cities show different patterns. While measurements on wearing face masks still remain controversial, a strong resistance prevails, as they are perceived as a stigmatizing symbol in European material and visual culture. Face masks, however, have become compulsory on Dutch public transport since the middle of the pandemic and they have represented agents for social change during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.  How can the visual material culture of face masks influence the urban anthropological pattern of the current pandemic in the Netherlands?  How can we speculate the New Normal era in Dutch urbanscapes through face masks?

“The Masks Cyclopaedia” has critically investigated “Face Masks Phenomenon” through the eyes of Korean practitioner based in the Netherlands since the pandemic outbreak. It conducts visual studies on face masks following the theoretical frameworks of material culture (Wagner, 2011)—Artifacts, Technology, Materials-that-matter, and Materiality—to classify the visual typology of face masks as urban anthropological objects. In conjunction with visual research methods using both traditional and new technologies, it executes interviews not only with experts such as urban anthropologists, sociologists, fashion designers, and materials scientists but also lay European citizens; it argues the interrelation between the material and non-material, and the visual and non-visual domains of face masks.

“The Masks Cyclopaedia” will be presented in October in the form of an online interactive cyclopaedia, aimed at accumulating urban anthropological data to navigate the definition of face masks for the upcoming New Normal era.


Concept, Research & Design: Yeon Sung 성정연
Programming & Web Development: Nedislav Kamburov

With the support of Stroom—Den Haag