Throughout the pandemic, artists have processed our strange new reality in different ways.
One of them is an online portrait project that started on Instagram under hashtag #PortraitsforNHSHeroes. This project pairs artists with health care workers for the UK National Health Service who works at the forefront of coronavirus.
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It was started by artist Tom Croft, who was inspired by a Thursday night ritual during closing this spring when people applauded for NHS workers to show their appreciation.
“When the lockdown began, we were all flooded and trying to find meaning,” said Jane Clatworthy, a painter who took part in the portrait initiative. “So Tom decided that as an artist, he could actually give a little something back. And that was just a real way to recognize front-line workers who took more than their usual duties.”
Due to locking, the artist and the portrait cannot meet in person for the portrait photo, so health workers send the artist’s photo for reference. Most of the images depict health workers at work, their faces partly hidden under masks, scrubs and glasses.
Clatworthy painted Dr. Georgina Keogh, a doctor at the St. George, from the pictures Keogh sent to the bathtub after work, cried in his hands as he tried to process everything he had done and witnessed that day.
“To be honest, when I received the picture of Georgina, I was really crying,” Clatworthy said. “Because, you know, we have met at Zoom and I have seen this young doctor up front and have to process quite a lot of sadness. During the height of the pandemic, you tried to overcome this new normal and only based on that kind of everyday. Our lives, we’ve all been lied to. But as a doctor, we have to deal with some kind of virus that they don’t have. It’s still unknown. They still find it. “
“And every day on the news, they announce that the number of deaths, and there is a lot of trauma there,” continued Clatworthy. “So I’m really grateful that Georgina is very, very authentic and has chosen to share that vulnerability. So I feel very honored by it.”
Keogh said he chose to send a photo of himself in the bathtub because it felt “honest,” considering the patient he saw and the stress of living alone. Keogh said the people who lived with him left their homes during the pandemic.
“I want to do something like that that reflects how I feel about everything that happens at work. And I want to be more personal,” he said. “The way I relax is … taking a bath at the end of the day. There’s not much more we can do during locking. … I guess it’s just a release after work. I mean, obviously, it’s really a different time when we work. And a lot of it is very new, and a lot of it is really sad. “
Clatworthy said he hoped his portrait of Keogh highlighted mental health issues around the pandemic.
“To really make portraits that might give others the ability to experience their own emotions and to process, you know, it creates that space,” he said. “I think other humans always respond to authentic images that allow them to carry out that dialogue.”
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