Denver International Airport exterior on April 27, 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

By Abril Mulato, The Associate Press

CLAIM: A painting of several children wearing face masks with their countries’ flags on them appeared in 1994 at the Denver International Airport.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The painting does not belong to the Denver airport art collection and has not been displayed there. The image of it began circulating online in February of this year.

THE FACTS: Social media posts that have been viewed thousands of times this week claim a painting of children wearing masks adorned with national flags first appeared at the Denver airport in 1994.

The posts use the claim as evidence the COVID-19 pandemic was planned.

“The Denver airport mural painted in 1994,” one Twitter user said. “Tell me this is not weird, how far do they plan this stuff in advance?”

A Facebook post went even further into the false conspiracy theory, posting an image of the painting with the caption, “Illuminati art works on display.”

However, these posts are not correct.

The communications office at the Denver airport told The Associated Press in an email that the painting in question is not an image from the airport’s art collection.

“The only mural painted in 1994 for DEN featuring international children wearing traditional clothing and that also features flags is Leo Tanguma’s ‘Children of the World Dream of Peace,’ but there are no kids wearing masks,” said Alex Rentería, a public information officer for the airport.

What’s more, the image was not circulating on the internet before this year. In a reverse-image search, the AP found that the oldest posts available are from February 2020.

A Filipino artist named Christian Joy Trinidad painted the work, which he called “Maskcommunication.” 

The artist’s Instagram account features a photograph of the painting, which confirms that the version on Facebook has been edited. The version spreading online features a boy wearing a mask with an Israeli flag. But in the original, that boy is actually wearing a mask with a Palestinian flag. 

The AP contacted Trinidad and he confirmed through an Instagram message that he created the painting for a contest in late February.

Associated Press writer Ali Swenson contributed to this report from Seattle.

This story was first published by The Associated Press on July 1, 2020.