Portraits of healthcare workers who died during the pandemic displayed on National Mall

Nestled between the Smithsonian Castle and the Washington Monument on the National Mall is a tiny house that contains an art gallery of digitized portraits of healthcare workers who died during the pandemic. It will remain there until Nov. 28. 

“There were all these numbers and statistics all the time. It was very rare that we actually see the face of the person,” Susannah Perlman told WTOP. 

She created the Hero Art Project in New York where the 100-plus digitized portraits of the departed healthcare workers have been previously displayed. 

The project started in the earlier days of the pandemic. Perlman would reach out to families who lost loved ones to see if they would like to participate in the exhibit. The family would then choose an artist and a style for the portrait. 

The tiny house now has displays that rotate between the portraits that range from photorealism, to colorful abstract, to basic sketches, all honoring a person who died. The family is able to keep the original artwork. 

“I think that it’s something that can tell the story of their loved ones that they could now pass on to generation to generation,” said Perlman. 

The subjects of the portraits come from across the country and several come from Maryland and D.C. including a portrait of Noel Sinkiat, a Howard University nurse who is believed to be one of the first nurses to die in D.C. from COVID-19. 

A portrait of Noel Sinkiat by Lynn St. Claire Foster. Sinkiat was a Howard University nurse who is believed to be one of the first nurses to die in D.C. from COVID-19.

In addition to holding portraits inside, the tiny art exhibit is also painted on the outside by Baltimore-based street artist Gaia. 

The sky background with butterflies invites visitors to add a cloud with the name of a healthcare worker that died during the pandemic or to create an origami butterfly. 

The Hero Project is on display in D.C. featuring photos of healthcare workers who died during the pandemic. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

“In the Filipino culture the butterfly is very representational of your departed loved ones, so when you see a butterfly that is a relative. It is really beautiful,” said Perlman. 

The project is also coordinating programs with the Duke Ellington School of Museum Studies, The George Washington Art Therapy Program and The Philippine Nurse Association of Metropolitan D.C.

The Hero Art Project is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. It will be closed on Thanksgiving day. 

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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