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Artist Max Siedentopf’s “How To Survive A Deadly Global Virus” Series Sparks Backlash

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An Instagram art series is causing a stir on social media due to its connections to the recent coronavirus outbreak in China

How-to Survive a Deadly Global Virus” was created by Namibian-German visual artist and creative director Max Siedentopf. Pictures appeared on his Instagram Wednesday of people posing with an unusual assortment of face mask substitutes. A shoe, an orange, and a bra are some stand-outs. 

Update: The images now appear to have been removed from Siedentopf’s Instagram and website without explanation.

According to his Instagram, the series is “inspired by masks found on social media during the Corona Virus outbreak […] Since the virus is currently spreading globally, the series offers handy solutions how you can use simple everyday objects to protect yourself against the deadly virus and any upcoming epidemics that might come in the future.”

As his description suggests, the objects used are “inspired” by those worn by real people in China and posted to social media amid a widely-reported surgical mask shortage. While some of the photos and memes were clearly jokes or were posted with mocking captions, a number of them seem to feature people acting out of earnest desperation, which may explain why some are not happy with the artist’s latest venture. 

On Chinese social media site Weibo, user zzzdgin comments: “Shame on you” under a post by account PADMAG: “Max Siedentopf[‘s] works have always been funny, but this time you may not laugh.”

Some have taken things further. The artist’s Wikipedia page, as of February 15, has been changed to read: “In Feb 2020, his work ‘How-to Survive A Deadly Global Virus’ insensitively made fun of the ongoing Corona Virus victims. The work is sought to be racial discriminating against Chinese and considered as a Neo-Nazi communication propaganda.” 

Critics argue that, while the coronavirus is affecting real people’s lives in places like Wuhan, artists such as Siedentopf are able to make light of and aestheticize the situation from a privileged distance.

This is not the first time Siedentopf has faced criticism for alleged cultural insensitivity. In early 2019, he created an installation called “Toto Forever” featuring solar-powered speakers that play Toto’s song “Africa” in the Namib desert, theoretically continuing for eternity. People were quick to point out the significance of the Namib Desert in the Heroro and Nama genocide at the hands of German imperialists. 

See Siedentopf’s full “How-To Survive a Global Pandemic” series here

Allison Jiang
    Allison Jiang is a Baltimore-based writer interested in the intersection of art and culture. She is passionate about big dogs, social justice, and stand-up comedy, among other things.