Hero Art Project honors healthcare workers lost to COVID-19: NPR


Exhibition creator Susannah Perlman poses in front of the “Tiny House” on the National Mall in Washington, DC

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Exhibition creator Susannah Perlman poses in front of the “Tiny House” on the National Mall in Washington, DC

Katie Dull / NPR

Susanna Perlman remembers her mom Marla’s smile, a big, beaming smile that included “some zip codes.”

Marla died of Kovid-19 last year. She was retired and served as director of volunteers at a hospital in Pennsylvania.

As part of the Hero Art Project, emerging and established artists from around the world have now immortalized the smiles of more than 100 other US-based first responders and health care workers who were killed by a pandemic they helped prevent. had tried.

NPR caught up with Perlman on the National Mall, where portraits rotate via digital flat screens in an energy-efficient “tiny house” in the shadow of the Washington Monument and Capitol Building. There are paintings, drawings and digital pieces, some multicolored, others monochrome.


Portraits on various mediums honor health care workers who died from COVID-19.

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Portraits on various mediums honor health care workers who died from COVID-19.

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“Here we are on the National Mall, where you have a lot of monuments, and it was a war in its own way, but it hit us in a different way that we weren’t expecting,” said Perlman, who founded the The digital art gallery ARTHOUSE.NYC was behind the commission. “So here is a monument to those who gave their lives, who went to work despite the risks and ultimately paid the ultimate price.”

Next to the gallery, visitors stop by a hospitality tent to participate in art therapy projects, such as making origami butterflies—a nod to a Filipino tradition that views butterflies as representations of the spirits of the deceased. They may also contribute to a living memorial made of clouds bearing the names of deceased health care workers, which is then added to the back wall of the home.

Many of the portraits are of Filipino workers to recognize the significant population of Filipino nurses in the US, there are also health workers from India, South America and Europe.

For her digital work representing Nurse Noel Sinkiat of Washington, artist Lynn St. Clair Foster animated the miniature and background of Sinkiat.

Illustrated portrait of a man with bold sweater and animated colors

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“Noel Siniciat” by Lynne St. Clair Foster

“It’s like he’s alive,” explained St. Clair Foster. “What I wanted to do was include not only the portrait, but the head … I try to bring bits and pieces of their world, their life, their culture.”

Because of the timing of the deaths of many of these workers, at the height of the pandemic, their families were not allowed to “mourn the way people normally mourn,” he said, adding that the pictures were a way of honoring the dead. There is another way.

In another painting, by Alayamma John of Indian origin, the artist depicts rays emanating from the nurse’s head.

Illustration of a nurse with jewel-tone colors in the background

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“Isabel Papadimitriou” by Lynn St. Clair Foster

“She’s almost like an angel,” said St. Clair Foster.


Perlman takes care of the paintings in the small house.

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Perlman takes care of the paintings in the small house.

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Perlman started the project after realizing that many of those killed by the pandemic were “simply being lost and forgotten; they were just a number.” She says, these commissions put forward the names.

“We will rarely see these human beings as the human lives that were behind these numbers, which I find more heartbreaking than anything else I can think of,” she said. “This person had a life, they had a history, they had families, they had roots … It’s more of a personal touch than statistics.”

The prefab house bears Marla’s name, but her portrait has not yet appeared in the collection because Perlman is still looking for ways to replicate his mother’s “wonderful expression.” The house, she says, “exemplifies who she was, a beauty, an elegance. She would love the natural light.”

After the Washington, D.C. show closes on November 28, Mobile Home stops are planned for Miami, Texas, Georgia, the West Coast and New England.


The exhibit will remain on the National Mall until November 28 before traveling to other parts of the US

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The exhibit will remain on the National Mall until November 28 before traveling to other parts of the US

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This interview was moderated by Leila Fadell and produced by Taylor Haney.

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