One of the most difficult aspects of wearing a mask during the pandemic is the limitations the mask places on something that is natural — breathing freely, unobstructed. I’ve worn a mask daily since March when the CDC directed people to do so, but on almost every occasion, I’ve mumbled under my breath about the annoyance — until after the heartbreaking videos of George Floyd’s killing on the street; until George Floyd’s plea, “I can’t breathe.” It was impossible not to think of those words in any other context, especially later on when street protests repeated those words en masse. The connection between the private miseries of confinement, social isolation, fear of a deadly virus and the public outcry for recognition, acknowledgment and resolution of social and racial inequities came full circle in an unprecedented way.
“Unprecedented?,” the current exhibition at Burlington City Arts (BCA) juxtaposes the deeply personal responses to the pandemic with the global activism that continues to intensify in a call to action. Nine Vermont and regional artists have created work specifically for this exhibition and, in a spirit of inclusivity, curator Heather Ferrell has asked five local community leaders to reflect on the works by these artists. The works and the commentary/responses are mounted side by side at the gallery and offer depth, personal experience and opportunity for reflection.