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Tate Liverpool exhibition captures Covid frontline staff on Canvas

A new exhibition at Tate Liverpool captures the faces and stories of NHS workers across Merseyside who have been on the frontline during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Mexican artist Aliza Nisenbaum’s first solo show in Europe highlights the impact that Covid-19 has had on her subjects’ jobs and home lives.

The people depicted in the individual and group portraits sat remotely for Nisenbaum via Zoom in August this year. They were also photographed by Dan Bentley as extra material for the artist.

Sitters included Calum Semple, Professor of Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool, a respiratory doctor who became a father during the first wave, and a student nurse who comes from a family of nurses who all chose to return to frontline work.

Teams of medics and support staff at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital also feature in two giant canvasses.

Prof Semple, a member of SAGE, explains: “My wife is a lecturer in nursing, and she heard about this and said had I thought of putting myself forward to represent the research response. In this outbreak it’s been integral to beating the virus and to improving care.

Above: Professor Calum Semple on his bagpipes.

Top: Team Time Storytelling, Alder Hey Children's Hospital Emergency Department. Paintings by Aliza Nisenbaum

“One in three people admitted to hospital at the start of the outbreak died. Now that number is one in six. That’s been achieved through a combination of doctors and nurses learning how to look after people better but also new drugs.

“Our work in Liverpool is to coordinate a national study which characterises the disease in people of all ages and we have 120,000 participants in this country. We also pool data with other countries.”

Each portrait subject was asked to bring something with them that was a part of their normal life and helped them in their downtime.

Prof Semple is pictured with a set of bagpipes.

He says: “I’ve managed to play quite a bit during the last few months. On some of the Thursday nights clapping for the NHS I’d get the bagpipes out and play in my road.

“I was a bit anxious because it’s not often that a doctor or scientist gets their portrait painted. Each of these portraits tell you something extra about the person in them.”

He adds: “I came to the preview of the exhibition and brought my family – they were immensely proud and I felt quite bemused! It was lovely to meet the other people in the portraits.

“All of us have been working together on this but we don’t get to see each other, not in a social environment. And this is a positive experience.”

Portraits of Covid frontline workers by Aliza Nisenbaum

The exhibition also includes three films, one documenting the creation of the work for Liverpool, as well as paintings created over the last five years including London Underground: Brixton Station and Victoria Line 2019, the artist’s largest composition to date.

Nisenbaum says: “I spoke online with 25 people who work in the healthcare sector in Liverpool. These conversations provided a fascinating window into each person’s life as a key responder during the Covid pandemic

“I’ve been deeply moved by these stories of service and selflessness, and of resilience through team-work and humour. I was very excited to create a tribute to each individual I’ve met through painting.”

The free exhibition is supported by The Tate Liverpool Commissioning Circle, the Embassy of Mexico in the United Kingdom and the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation and runs until June 27 2021.


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