‘Whispering Flowerbeds’ installed at PGH to honor fallen frontliners, inspire hope
MANILA, Philippines — When the country recorded its first COVID-19 case more than a year ago, health workers were suddenly thrust into the front lines of the battle against the deadly virus.
Many of them, however, ended up dying of the disease in hospitals choking with patients — alone and without the chance to bid farewell to their grieving families.
For renowned sculptor and painter Toym Imao, their sacrifices are a reminder of one of the most painful moments in recent history — one that demands the attention of the public and brings to mind the lives lost because of inadequacies in the government’s handling of the pandemic.
On Sunday, Imao led the installation of “Whispering Flowerbeds,” an artwork made of 12 discarded hospital beds from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) representing the 12 months that Metro Manila has been under community quarantine.
The metropolis was placed on lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 a year ago today.
Honor the fallen
“Hospital beds are one of the most powerful objects. These tell various stories from the birth of a child, to a suffering relative …. And when I saw these beds, I immediately thought about how we could do something that would honor all those who have fallen within the year of the pandemic,” Imao told the Inquirer.
The artist said that the hospital beds were taken from the COVID-19 wards of UP-PGH. In the next two and a half weeks, they will be filled with sunlight-resistant plants and flowers that are expected to be in full bloom by March 30, the first anniversary of the conversion of UP-PGH into a COVID-19 referral hospital.
“Whispering Flowerbeds” will be available for public viewing at the hospital’s main entrance along Taft Avenue for six weeks.
Imao said that they chose to decorate the beds with flowers and plants as a metaphor for survival and the springing of life amid a health crisis that has left thousands of Filipinos and health workers without hope.
He and veteran actress Bibeth Orteza, along with UP-PGH officials, will also collect stories from relatives of the fallen medical front-liners to be transformed into poetry and short stories. These will be “whispered” into the ears of those viewing the exhibit through speakers attached to the head of the hospital beds.
“Their testimonies, stories and everything will be recorded and played on loop so that the people viewing the installation can be reminded of what happened in the past year of the pandemic,” Imao said.
Melissa Orteza and her sisters Katrina and Isabella were the first volunteers to plant sprouts of the medicinal plant mayana on Sunday in honor of their father, Dr. Neal Orteza, one of the first front-liners to die of COVID-19 on April 8 last year.
Melissa, a doctor at UP-PGH’s ophthalmology department, said that participating in the public art installation was therapeutic, especially since she believed her father was there in spirit.
“He would have been so happy to know that his life and work are being given attention and appreciation. He would have loved to see this,” she said.
With health-care workers continuing to put their lives on the line especially now that the country is again tallying record-high COVID-19 cases daily, Melissa was hopeful that “Whispering Flowerbeds” would remind the public of the importance of taking the threat posed by the virus seriously.
“The surge is real. So we are urging the public not to relax and to continue practicing minimum health standards … A lot of people are still being affected by COVID-19, and a number of them are medical front-liners,” she said.
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