Face masks have been appearing on public artworks since the pandemic began, from Wuhan to Rome to New York City to … Barre. Sue Higby, director of Studio Place Arts
in Barre, took this shot of "Youth Triumphant" — a sculpture that presides over the intersection of Main and Washington streets downtown — and sent it our way.
As symbols go, a mask over the mouth would seem to suggest being silenced, and yet this masked man has something important to say.
The sculpture, made of local granite, was designed by C. Paul Jennewein in 1921 and cut by Gino Tosi, Enrico Mori and John Del Monte in Barre. It was erected in 1924 as one of those memorials that honors fallen soldiers while making a plea for peace. A curving granite bench, part of the Greek-style amphitheater designed by architect John Mead Howells, encircles the warrior. Due to an acoustical quirk, detectable by people sitting on the bench, the work is also sometimes called the "Whispering Statue."
The kneeling young warrior holds a shield and a sword, pointed downward. Neither of these instruments would help him against an invisible enemy like the coronavirus. That fact was likely not lost on the anonymous masker.
No matter where in the world public art has been amended with surgical masks, the prank reads as both playful and dead serious — a gesture that manages to combine the subversive humor of knit bombing with a stern public entreaty about respecting and saving lives.
As an article on Monument Lab
puts it, these masked statues are "drawing on the power of public art and the internet to speak loudly without words, to caution and create connections in the midst of a pandemic." Authors Paul M. Farber and Patricia Eunji Kim add, "the constellation of global masked monuments points to the failure of systems to act fast enough."
Let's hope that Barre's "youth" will continue to spread the mask's message, and indeed see triumph.