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An aerial view of the “Somos La Luz” mural in progress in the Queens Museum parking lot. (All images by Eduardo Amorim and courtesy Greenpoint Innovations)

As the COVID-19 virus death toll eclipses 100,000 in the United States — a huge portion of the approximately 350,000 deaths worldwide — tributes in various forms proliferate. The Queens Museum, in partnership with immigrant healthcare network SOMOS Community Care and advocacy organization Make the Road New York, among others, is preparing a huge mural dedicated to one of the hardest hit areas in New York City. A 20,000-square-foot mural by artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada is in the process of being laid out across the canvas of the Queens Museum parking lot. The resulting image, that of a masked medical professional, will be at a scale that makes it visible to satellites.

Titled “Somos La Luz” (“We Are the Light”), the portrait features the eyes of Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo, a physician and the secretary of SOMOS, who died of the virus.

The mural works from a masked photograph of Dr. Decoo.

Though the image is based on Dr. Decoo, it also commemorates the many healthcare workers who have risked or lost lives in the fight against coronavirus.

Rodríguez-Gerada is a Cuban-American artist who works primarily at large-scale portraiture situated in urban environments — or “urban land art” —  according to his website.

Rodríguez-Gerada and an assistant working on layout of the massive mural.

It was important to all involved parties that the masked hero evoke the Latinx community, which has been disproportionately affected by coronavirus exposure and fatality.

But the work likewise stands in recognition of the healthcare workers who continue to risk their lives in the fight against the as-yet unpreventable virus that has taken the country like wildfire. Even as individual states and countries negotiate the terms of “re-opening” — with no meaningful changes in the conditions that sparked the stay-at-home orders that have prevented even worse public health outcomes — one suspects that even a 20,000-square-foot reminder of the stakes might not be enough to discourage Americans from risking their health, and others’. Still, it seems that Rodríguez-Gerada is determined that his work create a space of hope and healing.

Rodríguez-Gerada at work on the mural.

“I wanted to create a place to mourn, where we can contemplate the difficulties that so many people are going through, after losing so many loved ones,” Rodríguez-Gerada told artnet News. “It’s a place that, in a political climate where there is more division than ever, we can find a way to bring ourselves back together as a community and as a nation.”

Other partners in the project, which was commissioned by SOMOS and Make the Road New York, include Greenpoint Innovations and El Museo del Barrio.

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....