A novel design for a mask to combat tear gas, which was inspired by last year’s Hong Kong protests, has won a prize in a competition organised by the Industrial Designers Society of America.

Police fired thousands of canisters of tear gas during the pro-democracy demonstrations which erupted in Hong Kong last year. Reports suggest up to 88 per cent of the city’s inhabitants were exposed to the fumes.

TEAR mask design awards
Photo: supplied.

The collapsible, pocket-sized Temporary Eye and Respiratory — or T.E.A.R — mask was designed by a team of four students at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

It won a Bronze award in the student design category at the 40th annual International Design Excellence Awards in mid-September.

The mask protects against the effects of tear gas for up to 15 minutes.

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“We originally designed the mask in late January 2020 with the Hong Kong protests as our case study,” said one of the team members, Alex Munro.

The face mask was seen as a means of safeguarding civil liberties. “At its core, the T.E.A.R. Mask is a message about the importance of human rights,” said another of the student designers, Claudia Hasenfang.

“It’s about bringing attention to the misuse of tear gas and about trying to protect freedom of speech and the right to protest. And our design is doing that,” she added.

As Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests grew into city-wide demonstrations last year, black-clad protesters wearing face masks amid billowing clouds of police tear gas became a quintessential image of the city’s fight for democracy.

protest tear gas tennis racket "August 24, 2019"
A protester attempts to hit a tear gas canister with a tennis racket during a protest on August 24, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The movement was sparked by the introduction of a now-shelved anti-extradition bill which would have allowed Hongkongers to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China’s opaque legal system.

Around 16,000 canisters of tear gas were fired from June to November last year, according to police figures.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.