Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, one of the world’s most prominent contemporary artists, completed a 20,000 square foot ground mural this week, honoring those who lost their lives to COVID-19 in the epicenter of the pandemic. Rodriguez-Gerada is best known for his massive, viewed-from-above portrait of President Barack Obama, and his monumental piece, Out of Many, One on the National Mall in 2014 that detailed American diversity and the immigrant experience. He was covered here on Sold Magazine last year for his project with Street Art Mankind.
The eyes of the portrait are based upon one of the first minority doctors who passed treating his hard-hit community. Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo was part of the SOMOS Community Care network in NYC that is comprised mainly of immigrant Latino and Chinese doctors treating those in marginalized communities. The project was designed based on conversations with community leaders to highlight what’s happening to communities of color in this pandemic.
“Somos La Luz Memorial” Corona Park, Queens NYC (2020)
Comment from artists IG:
We all love, laugh, cry and mourn. Each life is important and unique. Every life is incalculably more than just a number to be tallied up into a statistic.
The world is experiencing a terrible time. We are suffering through a global pandemic. It has become evident that the virus finds it easier to spread among minorities and our society is set up to make it that way. Covid 19 has made the underlying inequity in our nation more evident now than ever.
In New York City the coronavirus is killing Hispanics and African Americans at double the rate that it is killing Whites and Asians. This might be due to the fact that the Hispanic and Black populations represent 75 % of front-line city workers who are at high risk (more than 60 percent of people who work as cleaners and caretakers are hispanic, and more than 40 percent of transit employees are black). I am creating this piece in this part of Queens because of the disproportionate amount of Latinos that have died in the area.
But this is not only about, Queens and New York City, the disproportionate loss of life is now evident across the nation. The anti-immigrant discourse that has been omnipresent during the last three years has serious repercussions on the health of minority communities: the lack of health insurance, the fear of deportation and the inability to pay, discourages undocumented migrants from promptly calling for help or to attempt accessing a hospital. The disparate rate of new cases and death between their low income and wealthier zip codes across the nation is evidence of this. Not everyone can decide to not go to work, not everyone can just stay home and still have the money to buy food and necessities for months on end..Economic inequality is a crucial factor that influences diet and in the long run, compromises the immune system. Isolation and social distancing is impossible when there are large extended families or many unrelated people forced to share a small apartment due to their financial plight.
‘An important aspect of this is that it’s part of my story as well: coming over from Cuba when I was four, growing up in New Jersey, being formed as an artist in New York City, and the love I have for this diverse community. So it’s important thing for me to be able to come over and help, and get attention to the situation.
I’m just really grateful to all of the people that came and helped me, from Stephen Denofri at Greenpoint Innovations, to my brother Carlos Rodriguez, the photographer doing drone shots of the whole project, and Henry Munoz from the SOMOS foundation, who I talked to about formulating the project and getting it off the ground.' - Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, 5.30.20
Artist Danielle Mastrion, above, worked as an assistant on the project
'I’ve worked Greenpoint Innovations before in Newtown Creek with Lexi (Bella). They do admirable work in conservation and action, so I was happy to jump in and help.' - Danielle Mastrion, 5.30.20
‘This mural is so important for New York City right now. The Latino doctor, Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo, that passed away - It’s important to point out that COVID has disproportionately affected Latino and African American communities. It’s bigger than just being about the virus: A hero who is Latino is portrayed and honored.
SOMOS, who work with Latino communities in NYC and funded this project, used images of my Billie Holiday Harlem collaboration to advertise a new health insurance program recently. They do a lot of great work to uplift the Latino community in New York.
The most interesting part was learning how something like this is done. In other floor murals, the artist has been hunched over using rollers or spray cans, which can wreck your body. Here the artist was using spray guns so he could paint large areas of color and didn’t have to bend over.
They fly a drone up to take photos while working. The drone would go up, take a photo, then that was printed so the artist could look at it and make adjustments.
A large part of our work as assistants was helping with masks, for example at the edge of the brown of the neck and the blue of the scrubs, using plastic sheets and drop cloths. Jorge and his brother Carlos would cut the shapes, then we would find anything to hold the sheets down to avoid overspray. It was like masking a wall with tape and cardboard but on a massive, massive scale. One of the ways I learned to paint was going to mural festivals and watching artists work, so I got so much out of this experience.
SOMOSHealth, Henry R. Munoz III – Co-Founder of SOMOS, curator of the installation and Chairman Emeritus of the Smithsonian National Latino
*and special thanks to carlosrodz62I who selected Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo for the mural portrait, a Latino doctor from NYC who passed from COVID19.
SOMOS Health Care is the country’s largest physician-led health delivery network with nearly 3,000 physicians and 800,000 patients, nearly all are immigrants or first-generation Americans, and over two-thirds are Latino.
Make the Road New York - (MRNY) builds the power of immigrant and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education, and survival services.
WHERE:The south lot between Queens Museum and the New York State Pavilion
Queens, NY 11368
Memorial ceremony and official opening to the public event to be held end of week (date and time TBA)