Cal State LA nursing professor creates memorial artwork for health care workers lost during the COVID-19 pandemic

November 20, 2020

By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service

Inundated with heartbreaking news of health care workers losing their lives on the front lines of the global battle against COVID-19, Cal State LA Nursing Professor Ali Tayyeb was determined to find a way to honor their memories.

“As a nurse, a veteran, educator and artist, I recognize the importance of remembering those that have not only died but are fighting for the health of [their] nations,” said Tayyeb, an assistant professor in the Patricia A. Chin School of Nursing in the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. “I feel compelled to not allow the lives lost to be forgotten.”

Tayyeb, a U.S. Navy veteran and a double alumnus of Cal State LA, spent hours in his garage—in between teaching virtual courses in the summer and fall—constructing the “Healthcare Professionals Memorial Art Project,” which commemorates the valiant efforts of nurses and health care professionals around the world and the challenges they have faced during the pandemic.

Three wood panels anchor the focal point of the artwork, a figure in paper scrubs representing a health care professional. Slips of paper cover the figure and panels, showcasing news headlines from publications around the world:

Headlines about nurses “American Nurses Association says masks and PPE being reused.”

“As they rush to save lives, health care workers are updating their own wills and funeral plans.”

“Nurse suicides rise in Europe amid stress of COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Nurses left vulnerable to COVID-19: ‘We’re not martyrs sacrificing our lives.’”

The poignant excerpts from news reports provide a snapshot of the toll the pandemic has taken on nurses and health care workers across the U.S. and the globe. A recent analysis by Amnesty International found that at least 7,000 health care workers around the world have died from COVID-19.

Nurses from across the country have felt moved to take part in Tayyeb’s artwork, contributing their stethoscopes to incorporate into the piece.

The stethoscopes are mounted on the wood panels and covered by plexiglass, an homage to the prevalence of the material during the pandemic.

Stethoscopes behind plexiglass Tayyeb used materials including wood, plastic pipe and paper to create the piece, which stands 7-feet tall and 9-feet wide. He solicited donations for the materials through an online crowdsourcing campaign and received support from dozens of individuals and Jonas Philanthropies, a health care nonprofit.

Over a period of four months, Tayyeb documented his progress on his website, where he also posted photos and messages of gratitude to health care workers and those who supported the project.

Looking ahead, Tayyeb said he hopes more people will be able to see the piece and that it sparks further discussions about the work of health care professionals during the COVID-19 crisis.

“As publications and researchers push for answers, visuals such as art, sculpture, writing, poetry and the arts in general have been present as incredible reminders and serve as a conduit to a much needed conversation, emotional connections, healing and a learning platform,” Tayyeb said.

Photos: Top, Nursing Professor Ali Tayyeb with his artwork honoring health care workers. Middle, News headlines from the course of the pandemic cover the piece. Bottom, Nurses from around the country have donated stethoscopes for Tayyeb to incorporate into the piece. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

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