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Denver art project honors lives lost to COVID-19

Behind every COVID number and statistic, there are real people. A new art project in Denver will help remember them.

DENVER, Ind. — COVID-19 hit Lorraine Eloriaga’s family hard.

Just as the country was first learning about the virus, more than two dozen people in her family became sick. Nine of them were hospitalized. 

And the family lost one of its members.

It was Eloriaga’s brother-in-law, Edgar “Gary” Eloriaga.

“Gary passed on March 28,” she said.

“We said goodbye through a Zoom call. We didn’t get to go in and hold his hand, he died by himself. And we couldn’t even come together after as a family and comfort each other and do the things you’d normally do in a situation like this.”

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Months later, the family has a new way to honor Gary’s life. His picture is part of a new art project.

#COVIDWalls is on display outside the RedLine Contemporary Art Center in the Five Points Neighborhood at the intersection of Arapahoe and 24th streets.

The wall features the photos of essential workers, COVID-19 survivors, and now – people who died from the virus.

It can be easy to get lost in the statistics of COVID-19. The artists behind this project said they hope to connect faces and names to the numbers.

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“Seeing numbers and percentages just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Stella Yu, a local artist and one of the project’s organizers. “I’ve always been in the arts, I know the power of an image, and it's just a no-brainer, to say – no, you show their face. You honor them. It's not something we should hide, and perhaps it will remind us that this is real, and it's not something that’s going to disappear.”

Fellow artist, Sammy Lee, said the wall offers a sense of community after a year where many felt isolated.

“To see these people individual, come together, to form a wall -- not a divisive wall, but a ‘stand together’ wall, was really a powerful metaphor for me,” she said.

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Eloriaga said her family’s involvement in the process has been healing.

“And it makes me happy to see his face over here,” she said. “That’s he's part of something bigger and his death will not go in vain. We’ll use it now as a way to educate other people about a disease that – it is real. It is very real and it is very scary.”

The artists, Lee and Yu, have invited any family that’s interested to bring a picture of their loved one to add to the wall. While the artists are happy to help with the assembly, they encourage loved ones to do it themselves if they can. The artists have already prepared the adhesive materials (paste and brushes) and made them available at RedLine during business hours.

For families who would prefer the artists handle the adhesives instead, they can email a photo to covidwalls@gmail.com.

“I don’t mean to have this [displayed] in a very antiseptic environment. Its not a gallery piece to me. Its more important that what it means to people, to people you know and don’t know,” Yu said.

In fact, she encourages people to take the project one step further – and into their own neighborhoods. 

“Go ahead and put it on garage doors. Put it on storefront windows… on utility boxes,” she offered as a suggestion. “It’s a form of protest to me, too.”

Eloriaga said several of her family members have already stopped by to see the picture of Gary on display.

"I think it’s a beautiful tribute not only to my brother-in-law but to everybody else featured on this wall."

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