Smile! It's not only viruses that are contagious says a new public-service campaign

Students from the University of Ostrava have launched an initiative encouraging people to spread joy

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 30.10.2020 14:37:00 (updated on 04.12.2020) Reading time: 2 minutes

For several months since the start of the pandemic, Czech students have been volunteering to help in hospitals and social facilities in northern Moravia. Now they want to spread some joy using graphics created by one student from the University of Ostrava's Faculty of Arts.

The students noticed that the streets of Ostrava, a former industrial center, looked a bit forsaken, few people, and none of them happy. University Rector Jan Lata had the idea to liven it up - with smiles. The Helping with a Smile (Pomáháme úsměvem) project was thus created. Student artist Barbora Hlavicová created a series of graphics linked with the motto: “A smile is also contagious. Spread it with us.”

The large-format posters try to join art and history with humor, which during the coronavirus pandemic has been in short supply. The goal is to catch the eye of people passersby and remind them that smiles, as well as viruses, can be contagious.

Two posters from the Helping with a Smile campaign. (source: Barbora Hlavicová, Ostrava University)
Two posters from the Helping with a Smile campaign. (source: Barbora Hlavicová, Ostrava University)

“The idea that someone stops at a shop window displaying the posters and laughs whole-heartedly is at this time, great motivation for us to organize something like this,” University of Ostrava spokeswoman Lucie Fremrová said.

“It is important that we do not panic, we do not stop smiling at each other under the face masks and to believe that together we will soon be get through it.”

One of the posters shows 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wearing a mask, with his eyeglasses fogged up. The caption translates to, “They should have invented contact lenses by now.” Modern soft contact lenses are in fact a Czech invention from 1959.

Another poster is a bit more ponderous, perhaps losing something in translation. A detail of French neo-Classicist Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Socrates is shown, with Socrates wearing a mask. The caption translates to “I said masks!” Perhaps it is pun, as the Czech word for face mask, “rouška,” is similar to the word for Greece, “Řecko.”

The posters from the University of Ostrava workshop will be in the city centers of Ostrava, Třinec and Český Těšín, and gradually other places. The university’s volunteering service is also willing to send them to people who will put them up in other Czech cities.

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