It seems only yesterday when the nation was enforced into a strict lockdown due to the onset of COVID-19. Looking back in observance of its first year, the country is still seeing a surge of infection and while vaccines are now available, the end is still out of reach.
Toym Imao commemorates this event with his newest art installation at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), “Whispering Flower Beds”, an homage to the Herculean fight against the virus.
Imao strongly believes that he was tapped by “spirit guardians” as the world seemingly conspired to bring the old PGH hospital beds to his attention.
The installation was conceptualized when the artist heard about the condemned hospital beds in the PGH compound from his friends, TV Directors Bibeth Orteza and Carlos Siguion-Reyna. Days later, the artist had a meeting with Ophthalmologist Dr. Leo Cubillan in the PGH compound where he saw the hospital beds himself. “I was overcome with the power that these beds emanated and the stories they could tell. It was at that moment, in the presence of hundreds of these hospital beds, amidst a backdrop of the side street and greens along its periphery that an epiphany came to me: beds with flowers.”, Imao recalls.
He enlisted the help of his friend, Zena Bernardo, an active humanitarian and a plantita to help him realize the plan. Dr. Leo Cubillan and PGH Director Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi approved and supported the art installation proposal.
A symbol of hope
“The flowers complement the equally powerful object such as an old hospital bed. It represents life and hope, while the twelve beds represent sacrifice, mortality, the visual narrative of the times, and twelve months into the pandemic.” explains the artist. Additionally, Imao considers the blooms as a “passive-aggressive” trope referencing the flower power era in the 1960s when they were used as a symbol to oppose the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. He states, “It is a call for compassion amidst the prevalence of death and pestilence that plague the current administration concerning human rights and attacks on democratic institutions. [Our country is] one of the hardest hit with the problematic non-science based and authoritarian policies enacted to address the pandemic.”
Imao’s team is collecting stories and narratives into an audio collection which will be played using a speaker built in each of the beds, hence the title “Whispering Flower Beds”.
Altogether, the Whispering Flower Beds becomes a “creative approach in memorializing the fallen”, a sign of gratitude to the healthcare workers, a demand for better crisis management from the government, and a symbol of the brevity of human life and the desperate fight our medical frontliners are facing to combat the disease.
Cradle of Healing
A special tribute to the frontliners called Aluyan ng Paghilom (Cradle of Healing) will take place on March 30, 2021, at the PGH Oblation Plaza, exactly one year since PGH became the country’s largest COVID-19 Center. The program will be streamed online along with the launch of an online platform to share all the contents and stories that went into the program and art installation.
The installation is only intended to be up for several weeks until PGH would allow for it. There are also plans to spread the flower beds into different pocket areas around the hospital complex.