An Artist Is Transforming the Parking Lot of the Queens Museum Into a Tribute to Health Care Workers ‘So Big It Can Be Seen by Satellite’

Artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada's mural appears in one of New York City's hardest-hit neighborhoods.

Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, Somos La Luz (2020), in progress. Photo courtesy of GreenPoint Innovations, Eduardo Amorim.
Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, Somos La Luz (2020), in progress. Photo courtesy of GreenPoint Innovations, Eduardo Amorim.

A giant new artwork paying tribute to the victims of COVID-19, and the health care workers who put their lives on the line caring for them, will soon be completed in the parking lot of the Queens Museum,

The 20,000-square-foot mural by Cuban American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada depicts a doctor in a face mask and head covering. Titled Somos La Luz (Spanish for We Are Light), the work aims to put a face on the invisible victims of the global health crisis.

“I wanted to create a place to mourn, where we can contemplate the difficulties that so many people are going through, after losing so many loved ones,” Rodríguez-Gerada told Artnet News in an email. “It’s a place that, in a political climate where there is more division than ever, we can find a way to bring ourselves back together as a community and as a nation.”

The work also highlights the fact that the highest coronavirus death rates have been in neighborhoods that are predominantly black, Latino, and working class—likely because these populations represent the majority of essential workers.

Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada painting <em>Somos La Luz</em> (2020). Photo courtesy of GreenPoint Innovations, Eduardo Amorim.

Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada painting Somos La Luz (2020). Photo courtesy of GreenPoint Innovations, Eduardo Amorim.

“I hope people understand first that this artwork is created in one of the hardest hit areas in New York City, disproportionately affecting Latinos,” Rodríguez-Gerada added.

SOMOS Community Care, a health network that serves immigrants and Latinos, commissioned the work along with the advocacy organization Make the Road New York.

“This portrait depicts our people, executed at a gigantic scale—so big it can be seen by satellite,” SOMOS cofounder Henry R. Munoz III told Artnet News in an email. “It serves as a powerful testimony, not just about where we are, but also about our hopes for the future, our strength and our willingness to sacrifice our lives for our country and our dreams.”

Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada painting <em>Somos La Luz</em> (2020). Photo courtesy of GreenPoint Innovations, Eduardo Amorim.

Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada painting Somos La Luz (2020). Photo courtesy of GreenPoint Innovations, Eduardo Amorim.

At one point, the mural features the eyes of Ydelfonso Decoo, a physician and the secretary of SOMOS, who died of the virus.

“He was a pediatrician and was close to retiring, and the fact that he didn’t bow out, that he stayed on the front lines and made that sacrifice really struck me,” said Rodríguez-Gerada. “It’s heroic.”

Rodríguez-Gerada is known for his large-scale, viewed-from-above-ground works, most notably a 2.5-acre portrait of Barack Obama on a Spanish beachfront in 2008, and a six-acre “painting” in soil commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery for the National Mall in Washington, DC, in 2014. The work, titled Out of Many, One, featured a composite portrait based on the faces of 50 young men, both black and white.


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