Plague doctor with mask and four-metre cape stalks the streets of York

The doctor will see you now… Briony on Shambles. Photographs: Briony Godivala
26 May 2020 @ 8.08 am
| News

People who ventured into York city centre were taken aback to see a plague doctor stalking the streets.

The striking figure, wearing a beaked mask and a black cape spanning four metres, was seen across the city.

Passers-by stopped and stared, took photos, laughed and even shuddered as an art student filmed the character’s odyssey around York, including walking slowly down the world-famous Shambles.

The ‘Plague Doctor’ is the brainchild of York College art student, Briony Godivala, for her art foundation course final video project.

She said that people’s comments ranged from “It’s terrifying” to “Wow! That’s crazy” to “WTF is that?”

The video is the Briony’s response to the global crisis caused by the coronavirus.

Fear of the virus

‘That’s close enough’: Briony’s cape is all about social distancing

Briony says the character portrays the fear of the virus, and the cape – two metres each side – illustrate the distance people should stay apart to stay safe.

The cape is covered in pandemic-related imagery from politicians to bats to monotone rainbows.

The video shows the plague doctor walking around mainly empty streets, shopping in the supermarket, sitting on a park bench and on a video call – summarising the lockdown life for millions of people that has been going on for several weeks.

The audio is put together by interviewing people from around the world about their experiences – from the Northern Territories of Canada to Mumbai in India to Sydney in Australia to Cadiz in Spain to Bristol.

“The piece demonstrates conflicting opinions – the fears and the hope the crisis brings,” Briony said.

“Art for me is for the purpose of discussion, and a unique way to respond to and document personal and ubiquitous issues.

“This global crisis has defined our time in a way – so I wanted to make work that defined the crisis.”

And with art galleries closed, “we have to find other ways to keep the discussion going in the situation we are in – proving a unique challenge”.

You can read more about Briony and her art on her website.