NHS heroes

January 7, 2021

As a tribute to hospital workers and the humble heroes that they are, New York-based artist, Aliza Nisenbaum set about painting a series of portraits of NHS workers for a solo show at the Liverpool Tate. The sittings were done in the summer by Zoom. There is a chaplain, a hospital porter, and a respiratory doctor who came home to his pregnant wife, and then new born baby, after every shift. “Ryan wanted to be painted with his child in their allotment garden,” recalls Nisenbaum. Sharing these people’s stories was central to the project. “In some ways my paintings are about the individuals and their faces, but the formal elements of the work are kind of a fleshing out of their stories.” Ann Taylor says she always wanted to be a nurse. “I don’t care who you are, whether you’re the prime minister or somebody that lives on the streets, from me you’ll get exactly the same level of care.” Portraits are historically associated with Kings, Queens and dignitaries. “Portraits are for those with status and stature,” says consulting physician, Lalith Wijedoru. “But this is something very different. We are being immortalized in a form art. We are being exposed to the public in a way that perhaps the public are not used to.” It was a gratifying project for Nisenbaum and uplifting for the health workers. “To be a painting on a wall is longevity,” says Taylor. To bring colour, personality, emotion and struggle to groups of people that may otherwise go unrecognized is at the heart of Nisenbaum’s work. “When I paint these small passages of people’s skin it’s kind of a reflective space where I have the memory of the conversation we had. I think about what they’re going through, how they must be on the front lines and how they must be quite afraid. A lot of them are facing patients with Covid in their daily lives. I am thinking about them, and how they must need a renewal.”

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