2020 should be remembered for two things: the disrupting effect of Coronavirus sweeping through the world, and the murder of George Floyd.
‘I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. Ah! They’ll kill me. They’ll kill me. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’
George Floyd’s heartbreaking final words revealed a mind and body fighting for its last gasps of air, and serve as an uncanny echo of the respiratory failure common to Covid-19.
At the start of the pandemic, notions of community were amplified through a shared experience of suffering. When a few weeks into the collective panic and isolation, a man was forcibly suffocated in Minnesota under the knee of a police officer, our support for each other was challenged.
No longer were we able to believe that breathing freely is a right, as there were signs that it was becoming a privilege. The mask began to symbolise either altruism or oppression; to signal publicly where an individual’s support was likely to be placed.
For ‘Amuleto’ Ben Roberts photographed masks hanging from rear-view mirrors in an area that borders the Guadarrama Mountains, 50km north of Madrid. Francheska Melendez assembled the text using her own words and fragments of others’ voices gleaned from both private and public conversations.
Ben Roberts is a British photographer based in Madrid. Francheska Melendez is a writer originally from New York City, who now lives in Spain.