A masked boy wears what vaguely resembles a respiratory mask. His eyes are closed; perhaps he is swept away by his imagination, as children often get lost in fantasy. Bold, blue feathers replace his eyebrows. Their airy feel may remind us of a peaceful childhood—that feeling of being weightless without responsibility and living carefree. His mouth narrows into a circular shape as if he were whistling or singing beneath the restrictions of the mask. Does this respiratory mask help or hinder the boy’s freedom to daydream?
The mask itself is a red aquarium dip net, embellished with red feathers that gently float upwards and extend above the boy’s head as the tips gracefully curl back. The feathers resemble a phoenix. In Chinese symbolism, a lone phoenix embodies peace and joy, qualities often associated with the young. The lightness of the feathers is juxtaposed with the mask’s heavy message about air pollution, underscored in the repeated use of the colour red, which correlates to the fire phase and the burning of fossil fuels that produce air pollution.
The image of the boy evokes childhood nostalgia and a yearning to continue daydreaming about a clean, healthy future. A mythical creature that burns itself to death and rises from the ashes, the phoenix can renew itself after apparent destruction. While daydreaming, can we imagine Earth’s rebirth, much like that of a phoenix?
Think about what an unspoiled childhood looks like. Does it call to mind simple pleasures, innocence, and carefree living? Now, imagine that experience being interrupted by doctor’s appointments, breathing apparatuses, and medications. Envision stolen youth, caused by failing ecosystems and natural disasters. Wen Fang’s Maskbook project contains this portrait of a hopeful boy—her own son, in fact—who has not yet been subject to such experiences.
What changes to your life are you willing to accept to ensure clean air for our children? Where do you stand after considering Wen’s work? Do you feel blue or inspired? Picture the legacy we will leave behind: Are you okay with this picture? While reflecting on childhood, are you able to pinpoint the exact moment you lost your sense of enchantment with nature? When did you stop daydreaming? Mind-wandering provides an escape from reality and can bring insight. While looking at the masked boy, does your mind wander towards solutions that can ameliorate today’s climate crisis?