SA designer highlights how surgical masks may spur a 'new form of racism'

16 March 2020 - 15:56 By AFP Relaxnews
Designer Gavin Rajah used styling to draw attention to the coronavirus pandemic during Africa Fashion International's Fashion Week in Cape Town.
Designer Gavin Rajah used styling to draw attention to the coronavirus pandemic during Africa Fashion International's Fashion Week in Cape Town.
Image: Africa Fashion International

The coronavirus pandemic took centre stage during veteran designer Gavin Rajah's show at Africa Fashion International's Fashion Week in Cape Town last week.

Rajah sent models down the runway with glittering rhinestones stuck around their mouths in the shape of surgical masks to highlight the division and potential racism that wearing such protective gear may spur.

Models also donned plastic sheets covering their heads and faces to mimic the hazmat suits usually worn by medics working in infectious diseases hospitals.

“The use of the mask was ... symbolic because the mask isn't really about necessarily protecting you, but what its going to do, is alienate you from the rest of the people around you,” said Rajah. “It's going to set you apart. It's a new form of racism”.

“We're trying to create a form of expression and turn something which is negative into ... something which is beautiful,” he added.

The plastic coverings over some of the models' heads were reminiscent of the hazmat suits wore by medics.
The plastic coverings over some of the models' heads were reminiscent of the hazmat suits wore by medics.
Image: Africa Fashion International
A model wears a 'surgical mask' of adhesive rhinstones during the Gavin Rajah show at Africa Fashion International's Cape Town Fashion Week.
A model wears a 'surgical mask' of adhesive rhinstones during the Gavin Rajah show at Africa Fashion International's Cape Town Fashion Week.
Image: Africa Fashion International

Since the deadly outbreak of the virus — known officially as Covid-19 — originated in China in December, Asian communities around the world have been subjected to suspicion and fear.

In the world's fashion hub of Italy, which is one the hardest hit countries, Chinese tourists have reportedly been spat at in Venice and mothers in Milan have used social media to call for children to be kept away from Chinese classmates.

In Malaysia, a petition to “bar Chinese people from entering our beloved country” received almost 500,000 signatures in one week.

Rajah, who is celebrating 20 years in the fashion industry, said he didn't want to leave a legacy only of only pretty dresses.

“We want to acknowledge the humanity in the people next to us and around us. And we want to champion those rights,” he said.

SA has registered over 50 cases of the virus so far.