We’re all tired of COVID-19, but this is a good-news story! It’s about art, storytelling, humanity and community engagement.
“When the first wave of COVID-19 hit, I wanted to help people,” says visual artist and storyteller Shannon Holms, describing her idea to paint portraits of health-care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last worldwide pandemic was in 1918 and many countries tried to cover it up by placing a media ban on photos and stories about the Spanish flu. At the time, leaders did not want to divert attention away from the war efforts,” she says. “Therefore, there are not many photos or stories from that time. So I wanted to document this important time in history by [capturing] the people who are giving so much to society today—our health care heroes.
Holm worked for a year to complete 20 portraits and 20 stories of health-care workers, and the resulting show will take place for one week only at Gage Gallery, 19 Bastion Square, running from February 15 to 20. Opening night takes place Thursday, February 17, from 5 to 8 pm if Provincial Health Orders allow for organized gatherings at that time.
Many local health-care workers are represented in these portraits, including: Dr. Bonnie Henry (BC Provincial Heath Officer); Dr. Michael Berna (chiropractor), Sarah A. Smith (mental health and addictions at Royal Jubilee Hospital); Dr. Marlin Wilson (acupuncturist in Chinatown); Leanne Robertson (longterm care nurse at Langford Priory); Dr. Lorelei Johnson (general practitioner); and Jody Meacher (home support coordinator and home-care nurse from Island Health). All have unique stories.
“The stories are compelling, sad, sometimes funny and they give you a visceral experience of what it was like working in health care when COVID-19 first struck,” Holms said. “As I painted these portraits, one of the nurses working as part of the Abbotsford Hospital COVID-19 response team was on life support after being infected by the virus. The staff told me to keep painting these portraits because the images buoyed their spirits and gave them hope as they rallied around their co-worker.”
These stories, sparked by Holms’ extensive experience in community engagement in health care, are paired with her paintings, in which she uses gold leaf/paint to symbolize the attributes of the health-care workers’ jobs.
For example, local care home nurse Leanne Robertson has gold chrysanthemums painted on her shirt because that flower symbolizes longevity, Holms says, adding: “And longevity is what the nurses gave the seniors in the 300-bed, longterm facility, which suffered no COVID-19 outbreaks, thanks to their outstanding care.
Not all of the paintings are solemn. One of the paintings depicts local chiropractor, Dr. Michael Berna holding a spine-like a guitar. Another shows a paediatric nurse wearing a snoopy mask; and yet another shows a golden halo around the nurse’s head.
Because Holm is giving each of the portraits to the people she interviewed and painted, these works are not for sale.
More information about the artist can be found here: shannonholms.com