Pocket Full of Posies


by Tina McGrath

This visual work explores breath and pandemic masks from several perspectives.  The title harks back to the old nursery rhyme associated with plagues “Ring Around the Rosie” where a pocket full of posies referred to filling the pockets of those who had died with flowers to sweeten the air, or to carrying small bunches of flowers which were believed to have protective powers to ward off infection. Here the mask is full of spring blossoms growing on a cherry tree and from this perspective, the mask becomes a pocket full of posies which commemorates those who could not breathe and were lost to COVID-19. An incongruence is apparent where the viewer is surprised to note that there is no face behind the mask, and the posies become a substitute for a missing face and in this interpretation, can become a wreath.

The protective quality of masks when breathing is also explored through this image of a pocket full of posies. The flowers are shielded by the mask as we see the blossom cradled and contained by the mask and this reminds of the functions of mask-wearing which offers protection against transmission of COVID-19 through the act of respiration. It also problematizes mask-wearing as viewers only have the insinuation of what lies behind the mask.  We can imagine the full head of blossom whilst deprived of seeing it – in the same way, masks conceal our full face-to-face humanity.  This richness has had to be sacrificed to protect our breathing in clinical and close encounters. Some of the blossoms push out beyond the frame, which jars a little, and we find ourselves imagining a different edge and what the full spray may look like – in the same way as we may find ourselves imagining the full face of the person in our masked encounters.

The spring blossoms themselves bring a sense of hope whilst the bright blue sky and the sunshine seen within the mask, pointing to brighter days and hopes of renewed life and return to normal when the pandemic recedes and we can all breathe more easily and without fear.

The juxtaposition of the mask and the blossoms creates a clash of environments that also points to a pressing environmental problem as the careless disposal of the masks that we use to protect us while breathing are choking the natural environment, and the unsustainable practices and the pollutants created in their manufacture and subsequent waste-management, are impacting negatively on the quality of the air that we all breathe.

Tina McGrath has a healthcare background and a deep interest in the complexities of human embodiment. Her work explores the subjectivities of how the body is lived along the continuum of health and illness. She has previously had work published in Tendon and Pendemic.ie.

Twitter: @DrTinaMcGrath