An engaging art project uses prototype masks to reproduce a year of COVID in a quilt banner.
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared a state of a global pandemic due to the propagation of the Covid-19 virus originating from Wuhan in China. In a world where people and goods move quickly and easily over oceans and across borders, the people of Eeyou Istchee, including the staff of the CBHSSJB, grew increasingly worried by the contagion risks faced by the region. They knew that even though there were hundreds of miles away in an isolated territory, the disease could eventually make its way here. Doctors and healthcare employees of the Cree Health Board were especially preoccupied by the potential lack of protective equipment for frontline workers, and no one knew when our organization would receive necessary supplies. Thankfully, our staff is resourceful and solution-oriented. A team composed of Dr. Laforest, Dr. Aubin, Véronique Doutreloux, Nicole Jolin, Josée Quesnel and Mae Lafrance organized the small-scale production of homemade face masks that provided protection until commercial and surgical masks became easily available.
There are many talents in Eeyou Istchee, and a crew of amazing seamstresses in Mistissini put their ingenuity at work to protect the local populations.
Pictured is Louise Gunner Rabbitskin, one of the seamstresses behind the homemade masks.
Louise Gunner Rabbitskin, Laurie Rabbitskin, Emily Rabbitskin, Juliette Neeposh, Annie Mapachee, Stephanie Sicard-Thibodeau, Nicole Boulanger, Adrienne Roseberry and Josee Quesnel created the first prototypes of Covid-19 masks with textiles donated by Nishiyuu, with a three-layered version being chosen for reproduction. Then, more than 1000 homemade masks were made and distributed to the users of our healthcare services in Eeyou Istchee’s nine communities. These homemade masks were also given to patients and their escorts and families staying at the Espresso Hotel in Montreal. The distribution logistics were handled with the help of Sarah Quint, Marie-Josée Morin and the Cree Health Board’s procurement team. This brilliant project helped many people feel safer at the beginning of the pandemic.
A year has passed and the pandemic remains far from over. Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down by the lockdowns, the closures, the family separations and so many side effects emanating from the ongoing health crisis.
Mae Lafrance, one of the originators of the homemade mask project had kept the original prototype masks made by the seamstresses and wanted to make sure this historical moment wasn’t to be forgotten later. So, after the Christmas holidays Mae approached Josee Quesnel with the idea of making a quilt from the prototype masks.
Pictured is one of the prototype masks.
“Josée is the artist of our team. She is extremely talented and she got on board right away with my madness of the moment,” Mae confides. Josée, who has led other quilt projects in Mistissini, started working on the quilt on February, 15, 2021 and completed a month later, with support from Mae Lafrance and Wally Rabbitskin. The resulting quilt-banner covers the first year of the pandemic, with each of the twelve months being described by an individual square quilt and a caption.
The twelve miniature quilts were then sewn together to form a banner that reads like a calendar:
March 2020: One of our reactions when we first heard we would have to wear masks
April 2020: Hunters getting ready to leave for their Goose Break having to wear a mask in the helicopter or plane.
May 2020: First ever masked Goose Break
June 2020: Normally the end of June is marked by graduation ceremonies. This year the celebrations were totally different.
July 2020: Even our community dogs had to get used to people wearing masks
August 2020: Missing summertime fun
September 2020: Fall season and feeling tired as the pandemic prolongs.
October 2020: Hunting season and trapping season. Sharing the harvests to uplift our spirits
November 2020: Still wearing masks. With the cold weather, getting annoyed by eyeglass fogging.
December 2020: Impossible to skip Christmas. Lots of shopping is done online this year.
January 2021: Mistissini Baby Boom. Some fun in the isolation
February 2021: Have to get active and get rid of Covid weight
Upon completion, the quilt-banner paying tribute to the first attempts to protect our population from Covid-19 found a permanent home in Mistissini’s Public Health building, where employees are pleased to see this recent history artistically documented. Currently the quilt-banner has been loaned to the Sport Complex, where the campaign for the vaccine’s second dose is ongoing. It is a promotional tool and also gives people the chance to appreciate an artwork deeply intertwined with our battle against Covid-19.
As the pandemic advanced in the spring of 2020, the Cree Health Board approached Natasia Mukash, a visual artist based in Whapmagoostui, to create a set of images to convey health messages using a style rooted in Cree art