COVID-19 memorial creators reflect as world nears 5 million dead

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As the world approaches the milestone of 5 million deaths from COVID-19, memorials large and small, ephemeral and epic, have sprung up in the United States.

In New Jersey, a woman’s modest seaside memorial to her late brother has grown to honor thousands of lost souls. In Los Angeles, a teenage girl’s college project commemorating the fall of her city through a patchwork quilt now includes the names of hundreds more from around the world.

Here’s a look at what inspired some American artists to honor the nearly 5 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19.

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WASHINGTON DC: In June, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg purchased more than 630,000 small white flags in preparation for a massive temporary memorial on the National Mall.

It would be more than enough, she thought, to represent all Americans who succumbed to the virus as the pandemic appeared to recede.

She was wrong. By the time of the opening of “In America: Remember” on September 17, more than 670,000 Americans had died as the delta variant of the virus fueled a deadly resurgence. By the end of the two-week exhibition, the number was over 700,000.

Firstenberg was struck by the way the aliens connected in their grief during the installation, which ended on October 3.

“I was blown away by the willingness of people to share their grief and the willingness of others to alleviate it, to honor it,” she said. “So when I looked at these flags, I saw hope. I truly believe that humanity will win.

The installation was the second monumental exhibit to remember the victims of the virus that the artist from Maryland staged. Firstenberg previously planted nearly 270,000 white flags outside Washington’s RFK Stadium last October to represent the national death toll at the time.

“For the former, my motivation was outrage that the country could let something like this happen,” she said. “This time it was really to bring about a moment of pause. The dead have been relentless. People have become completely used to these numbers.

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TOWNSHIP OF WALL, NEW JERSEY: On January 25, Rima Samman wrote her brother Rami’s name on a stone and placed it on a beach in her hometown of Belmar, New Jersey, surrounded by seashells arranged in the shape of a heart. It would have been Rami’s 41st birthday had he not died of COVID-19 the previous May.

A makeshift memorial quickly grew after Samman, 42, invited other members of an online support group to contribute markers commemorating their own loved ones. In July, there were over 3,000 stones in a dozen hearts surrounded by yellow painted clam shells.

Samman and other volunteers decided to preserve the memorial because it was located on a public beach and exposed to the elements. They carefully dismantled the arrangements and put them in display cases.

“I knew if we demolished it it would crush people,” she recalls. “For a lot of people, that’s all they have to remember their loved ones.”

The exhibits are now the centerpiece of the Rami’s Heart COVID-19 memorial, which opened in September at the Allaire Community Farm in neighboring Wall Township. It includes a garden, a walking path and sculptures, and honors more than 4,000 victims of the virus and growing.

Maintaining the memorial was both rewarding and difficult, as she still mourns the loss of her brother.

“It’s a double-edged sword because as much working on the memorial helps, every day you are exposed to this grief,” Samman said.

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LOS ANGELES: The Madeleine Fugate Memorial Quilt started in May 2020 as a seventh grade class project.

Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which her mother worked on in the 1980s, the 13-year-old encouraged families in her hometown of Los Angeles to send her fabric squares depicting their lost loved ones that she would sew. together.

The COVID commemorative quilt has grown so large that it covers nearly two dozen panels and includes some 600 commemorative places honoring individuals or groups, like the more than two dozen victims of the virus in New Zealand.

Most of the quilt is currently in the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, with a smaller portion on permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and another at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Florida. Nebraska.

Fugate, his mother, and a small group of dedicated volunteers get together on Sundays to sew and embroider panels. Tissues and other materials are donated by the families of the victims.

Now a freshman in high school, she plans to continue the project indefinitely.

“I really want everyone to remember so families can heal and represent these people as real people who have lived,” she said.

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