How Do You Mourn a Pandemic? See How Artists Around the World Are Building Monuments to Those Who Died of COVID-19
As the world continues to battle the spread of disease, artists and architects are helping memorialize those we lost.
Yesterday marked one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, but many artists and activists have already been paying tribute to the 2.62 million people who have died worldwide from COVID-19 so far.
Here is a look at 17 tributes from around the world, including ongoing displays, past projects, and planned memorials.
New Yorker Kristina Libby began placing heart-shaped flower wreaths in prominent sites across the city last April, when the first wave of the pandemic was at its terrifying height.
“I laid a heart because I was grieving and I wanted to do something to recognize our losses,” the artist said in a statement. “Community matters now more than ever, and one way we can grow community is by grieving together.”
The project has since blossomed into something greater. On March 1, volunteers created Floral Hearts in 100 sites across the US with flowers donated by 1-800-Flowers, with additional installations to follow.
Shane Reilly, Memorial for Those We’ve Lost
In May, Austin sculptor Shane Reilly began planting flags on his lawn for each Texan who had died from COVID-19. The display quickly proliferated.
“This isn’t just a flag, this is someone’s mom or dad. That’s somebody’s friend that died,” the artist told local news outlet Kxan in January. At the time, he was up to 32,000 flags, and running out of space.
Texas officials have denied permit requests to erect the piece at the state capitol, according to Reilly’s GoFund Me, but he is looking for a new home for the growing installation, which he hopes will become a state-sanctioned memorial.
Carlo Omini, Resilienza, Comunità, Ripartenza
On February 21, 2021, the tiny town of Codogna, Italy, unveiled a monument commemorating the nation’s first documented locally transmitted coronavirus case, diagnosed one year earlier.
Designed by architect Carlo Omini, the sculpture features three steel columns and is set amid a small garden with a quince tree. In a message of hope amid a still-raging pandemic, the work’s titular inscription means “resilience, community, restart.”
LuminArtz and Pamela Hersch, COVID-19 Memorial
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts
A temporary video artwork was installed on the facade of Massachusetts’s Cape Ann Museum this week, in memory of the over 2,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in surrounding Essex County.
The nightly projection runs through March 14, a two-minute looping animation depicting souls floating into the sky, is accompanied by a memorial quilt embroidered by Dianne Taormina and assembled by Ingrid Schillebeeckx-Rice, as well as 55 granite cairns built by the Cape Ann Tree Service for each of the cape’s 55 casualties.
Los Angeles’s Marcos Lutyens is organizing a national handcrafted COVID-19 memorial of red felt roses, inspired by the traditional use of red roses in military funerals. For those who want to contribute, the artist has provided a template and even has kits for sale to make flowers and send them to him to add to the display.
The project was installed on the exterior of the Orange County Museum of Art earlier this month, but the artist is looking to stage a large-scale version of the piece across a lawn of about 5.5 acres, with one rose for every square inch.
“We all need to come together and this gives a unique opportunity for the community to do so in order to honor the local COVID victims and their families,” Luytens told Patch. “Through grieving, we can all move forwards towards a brighter future.”
Americas COVID-19 Memorial
Biennial of the Americas
The Biennial of the Americas is launching an open call for COVID-19 memorial designs later this month. Curators Derrick Velasquez and Maria Paz Gaviria will select proposals by 30 artists from across the Americas for consideration. A virtual exhibit to be held in June will feature the top 20 designs.
London COVID-19 Pandemic Memorial Garden
Olympic Park, London
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has unveiled plans for a “living memorial” in the form of a garden planted by the National Trust with funding from Bloomberg. At its center will be a circle of 33 blossoming trees, representing the city and its 32 boroughs, and recalling the pandemic’s springtime beginnings.
The garden “will be a permanent reminder of the lives that have been lost, a tribute to every single key worker, and a symbol of how Londoners have stood together to help one another,” Khan told the Evening Standard.
Gómez Platero, World Memorial to the Pandemic
Gómez Platero announced plans to built the world’s first COVID memorial in August. The architecture firm says it is in talks with the Uruguayan government to build the monument on an unused urban waterfront site in Montevideo.
“By creating a memorial capable of activating senses and memories,” lead architect Martín Gómez Platero said in a statement, “we can remind our visitors—as the pandemic has—that we as human beings are subordinate to nature and not the other way around.”
Madeleine Fugate, COVID Memorial Quilt
California Science Center, Los Angeles
Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which her mother helped work on in the 1980s, 13-year-old Madeleine Fugate started collecting fabric swatches honoring the individual victims of the coronavirus as a final project for her history class. Her hope is to have the loved ones of each of the deceased contribute a square for the quilt, which is set to go on view for a year at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
“If we forget about all these people that have died, it’s like we’re losing a little bit of humanity,” Fugate told National Geographic. “You really understand, when you see the squares and get to hold them in your hands, how much these people meant to the people sending the squares.”
Graham Ibbeson, Covid Memorial and tribute to key workers
The UK town of Barnsley has tapped sculptor Graham Ibbeson to honor the efforts of essential workers during the pandemic with a new permanent monument that represents the way in which the entire community has been affected by the virus.
The artist was initially hesitant to make a public work about the ongoing crisis.
“I thought if there was a war going on—and this is definitely a war—would you put up a memorial in the middle of it?” Ibbeson admitted to the New York Times. “Who knows if we’ll ever get through this, but the vaccines are a symbol of hope in this moment of darkness, and that’s how I see this sculpture.”
Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, IN AMERICA How Could This Happen…
DC Armory, Washington, DC
It took two months for sculptor Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg to get government approval to plant a sea of white flags outside the DC Armory in October, one for each US life lost to COVID-19. At the time, the death count was 219,000, with the artist adding new flags daily to match the mounting toll. In the months since the piece concluded, that number has more than doubled.
“I know how valuable each life is, because I’ve had the opportunity—the honor—to be with people at a very difficult time in their lives, as they’re saying goodbye,” the artist, who volunteered as a hospice nurse for 25 years, told NPR.
The temporary artwork has since been turned into a digital installation by Maggie Peterson.
MTA Arts & Design, Travels Far
107 MTA Subway Stations in New York City
Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York honored its own with a video tribute featuring photographs of many of the over 100 employees who had died of coronavirus. It ran at stations throughout the subway system three times a day through February 7, and can still be viewed online.
The memorial was conceived by MTA Arts & Design director Sandra Bloodworth, who created the artwork with Cheryl Hageman and Victoria Statsenko, and co-led by Andrew Wilcox. Gene Ribeiro and Gary Jenkins provided graphic support, with audio by composer Christopher Thompson, and a newly commissioned poem, “Travels Far,” by US poet laureate Tracy K. Smith.
Belle Isle, Detroit
The city of Detroit honored its dead with a memorial of photographs of over 900 locals who died of the virus that stretched for miles along Belle Isle on September 2. The display was organized by Detroit Arts and Culture director Rochelle Riley.
“It’s easy to get numb in this environment, but we must not just look at this as numbers,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said at the event, according to the Detroit Free Press. “These are people. Men and women, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, who had dreams and plans and a story. They weren’t finished yet.”
Marked by COVID
Rose Garden at the Arizona State Capitol, Phoenix
On on November 1, the Day of the Dead, the nonprofit Marked by COVID set up 500 chairs, each with a lit tea candle, to represent the nearly 6,000 Arizonans pandemic victims—particularly from hard-hit communities of color.
“The idea for this celebration tonight, this memorial, is to create a space for us to mourn out loud,” organizer Kristin Urquiza, whose father was among the dead, told AZ Central.
Andrea Arroyo, CoVIDA
Morris Jumel Mansion, New York
Welcoming visitors to the grounds of Manhattan’s oldest single family home, the Morris Jumel Mansion, this winter, was a delicate yet evocative cut paper and ribbon installation that served as New York’s first memorial to the pandemic that had ravaged the city.
Its site, at a property that has survived everything from the American Revolution to the September 11 attacks, served as a reminder of the resiliency of New Yorkers, while Andrea Arroyo’s floral garlands, commonly used in Day of the Dead altars, spoke to the Latin American community of surrounding Washington Heights, the neighborhood in Manhattan that has seen the most COVID deaths.
“CoVIDA acknowledges that life continues during the pandemic, and while we reflect on the devastating loss of life, we look to the future with hope, and celebrate the life that is here and now,” said the artist in a statement.
Georgia Coalition 2 Save Lives, Loved Ones, Not Numbers
National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta
The Georgia Coalition 2 Save Lives put up a wall of 5,000 broken paper hearts outside Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights in August. The state’s dead numbered 5,300 at that time.
“We know that these deaths were preventable and more deaths can be prevented if the governor issues an ordinance statewide for mandatory masks,” Jana Johnson-Davis, an educator and local school board member who helped organize the display, told MSN.
Sonia Gutiérrez, Luminarias on S. Washington Ave.
Artist Sonia Gutiérrez created an eight-block trail of 212 glowing paper lanterns in her neighborhood in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Christmas Eve. She read a prayer as she installed each luminaria, which represented the 212 residents of the city’s Washington County who had died to that point.
The temporary installation was designed to be a “healing and restful space,” the artist told PBS.
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