SIU Talks | The Guy Fawkes Mask and Historical Memory | Schiller International University Skip to main content Skip to footer

On June 8th, 2021,Vicki-Marie Petrick, Adjunct Professor of European History and Art History from Schiller International University’s Paris campus, walked us through a unique example of art history applied to modern times. She presented the historical evolution of the popular Guy Fawkes Mask used in many popular demonstrations, highlighting the paradox of its use in past and present times.

At SIU, we are intricately interwoven in the international landscape and are continuously involved in day-to-day occurrences both in terms of business news and the socioeconomic reality that surrounds us and how it affects our lives. We have therefore decided to launch SIU Talks. Led by renowned professionals in various sectors and by specialists in international geopolitics, these talks explore in-depth topics and provide further insight into different areas.

During this SIU Talk, Petrick explores the history of the iconic Guy Fawkes Mask, highlighting the power of memory in history and revealing how visual motifs travel through time. She shares various photographs of the mask throughout history and quotes several artists and historians.

The mask, used for protests since the early teens of this century, served earlier as a grass roots symbol of the downtrodden. The mask’s short-term history stems from a graphic novel about two self-identifying anarchists which later served as inspiration for 2005 V for Vendetta movie. The original mask originated around 1605 in London, emerging from the turmoil of Catholic and Protestant clashes.

When exploring the power of memory and image in history, she introduces the term “Site of Memory” or “Lieu de Mémoire.” She states that the Guy Fawkes Mask finds itself on the threshold between remembering and forgetting and shares that the mask has long been associated with a rhyme that begins “Remember, remember.”

Petrick also explores the role of the mask during Carnival times, investigating to what extent the act of masking in public may lead to the inversion of political order. She explains that, during Carnival times when all individuals wear masks, everyone is allowed to be a participant, creating inversions between kings and peasants for instance who are all donning the same mask. She mentions that this allows common individuals to “watch the government” instead of the other way around since all citizens are wearing masks that disguise them equally.

In modern times, the mask has been used for protests since the early teens of this century.

After interviewing several protestors, Petrick reveals two beneficial things it does for those who do not live in a liberal democracy. She states that it “thwarts facial recognition software so they needn’t worry about reprisals” and creates a feeling of equality among protestors. However, she also states that it can create irresponsible protesting through acting out in ways that create attention from authorities and may incite authorities to use force.

The role of masks in history and in current times varies but yet also retains many underlying significances. Throughout this SIU Talk, Petrick allows us to see why the iconic Guy Fawkes Mask continues to emerge as a powerful symbol.

Watch the full SIU Guy Fawkes Mask Talk video here

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