Welcome to the Kamil Gallery Online which hosts exhibitions of UCSD Undergraduate Visual Arts Students

500 / Quinientos: Coronavirus Code-switch

Tzinti A Aguirre-Medina

Not even a full month into 2020, I arrived in Mexico City to start my second consecutive semester abroad.

Not even halfway through the semester, I returned to California after my program had been suspended.

Sunrise landing in Mexico City Jan 2020
Benito Juárez INTL Jan 2020
Mexico and Italy on the map

Throughout the few months leading up to the total global shutdown in March, I was able to follow COVID-19 in its trajectory and eventual arrival to Mexico City. The first few cases in Mexico were imported from residents who had returned from traveling around in Italy. Coincidentally I had spent the Fall semester studying abroad in Rome. This region also stood out to me because in 1492 one of the most notorious Italians, Christopher Columbus, sailed the ocean blue and landed on one of the Bahamian islands, most likely San Salvador. He was on a mission to acquire fame and material wealth, and with the blessing and funding from the Spanish Monarchy he set off on his journey. A year later, after searching for this wealth that was never found, Columbus left the island of Hispaniola and returned to Spain empty-handed.

Conquista de México por CortésUnknown artist, second half of the 17th century
Nahuas of Mexico with smallpoxIllustration in Florentine Codex Book XII

2020 marks 500 years since smallpox hit the mainland of the Americas, following the arrival of Spanish settlers coming from the island of Hispaniola - remember the trail Columbus left behind! As a result, 1520 would observe the unfolding of events that devastated the Aztec Empire, contributing to its eventual fall. Around half of the native population of Tenochtitlan (Aztec capital/modern-day Mexico City) and its neighboring communities died off, as they did not possess immunity to resist the disease.

This body of work is a response to the current COVID-19 crisis, taking into account a larger history of pandemics. Given this context, as a daughter of Mexican immigrants it’s been interesting to think about how such an event that affected their homeland several years ago could repeat itself in our lifetime, transcending borders and gravely impacting our contemporary living circumstances.

It is a gesture exploring a...

A. DIY response to the lack of funding and availability of PPE for medical professionals and essential workers during COVID-19

B. code-switch of the armor of colonization towards use in the Americas as a defense and security mechanism for use in the modern day

C. effort to divest from the large amount of waste accumulating from single-use protection gear (disposable face masks/shields, full-body gowns, plastic gloves, etc)

D. All of the above

Answer: D. All of the above

In brainstorming this project, I was greatly inspired by what I saw at the Royal Armory of Madrid while studying abroad. I thought about how the functional design of Spanish armor of the 15th and 16th centuries could play a role in becoming a modernized armor to resist today’s COVID-19 pandemic. With news surrounding a shortage of medical equipment to resist the virus, I decided to toy with the idea of making my own PPE, aiming for a DIY solution to respond immediately to the problem. Throughout the designing stages, I also felt the need to address the issue of a devastating increase in disposable, toxic waste from single-use PPE products.

I chose metal mesh in order to make garments that would be light yet durable, reusable, and provide additional filtration and protection from the virus. The primary materials, copper and stainless steel, are ones that scientists have discovered do not contain the virus for more than 2 days. Copper has an advantage over steel in that it has antimicrobial properties and can rid itself of the virus in as little as 4 hours! Stainless steel takes a little longer, ranging between 2-3 days. In addition to designing for reuse, I thought about making these pieces adjustable (hence the obnoxiously lengthy ribbons) to accommodate various shapes, sizes, and genders.

Models: Tzinti A Aguirre-Medina, Jonathan HernandezPhotographed by Emiliano Aguirre

100% HANDMADE / 100% HECHO x [hu]MANO

Not meant to be worn as substitutes to regular face masks or clothing, but rather in addition to them. Ideally as an extra layer, placed on top of for added defense, effectively taking on the foundational characteristics of a suit of armor. To preserve the pieces while in use and ensure the safety of their wearer they must be spot-cleaned regularly. For copper use a combination of salt and vinegar, for stainless steel use a combination of vinegar and olive oil.

After a lifespan spent in protecting and resisting, they should not be thrown into any ordinary waste bin. Instead, the best way to dispose of these garments would be to take them completely apart, separating cloth from metal, and sending each material to the appropriate recycling center for a proper disposal. If the materials still happen to be in good condition, they may be repurposed.

Special thanks to Prof. Ricardo Dominguez, Jonathan Hernandez, and Emiliano Aguirre for their help in supporting this project.