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Portraits of our Frontline Workers: Gibraltarian Artists Honour those in the Frontline

Rosario Pérez | Photos: ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

As from August 25 to October 2, the GEMA Modern Art Gallery in Gibraltar is hosting an exhibition, showcasing paintings that pay tribute to those frontline workers who continued their work during the lockdown. ReachExtra went to the opening day to see what it was all about.

Portraits of our Frontline Workers Exhibition Gibraltar GEMA Davina Barbara

Over fifty portraits of frontline workers, many wearing masks and protective gear, are now on display throughout the halls of the Gibraltar Exhibition of Modern Art (GEMA) gallery as a tribute and to convey the humanity of those in the essential services who society counts on when things get difficult, especially for the vulnerable citizens.

“Portraits of our Frontline Workers” features works by Gibraltarian artists to in order to put the spotlight on those who continued working through the worst of times of the COVID-19 lockdown. The gallery opened its doors on Tuesday August 25, and was inaugurated by the Minister of Culture, Dr. John Cortés. October 2 will be the exhibition’s final day.

The exhibition, organized by the Gibraltar Cultural Services in collaboration with the Fine Arts Association, showcases portraits created by around 40 professional and amateur local artists. As the minister himself explained during his visit to the gallery, the initiative was promoted during the lockdown, in those “difficult months” in which all citizens, including artists, saw their lives change drastically.

The inspiration for this project came from British artist Tom Croft, who painted portraits of frontline workers in his new found free time during the UK lockdown. As well as the portraits, and also because regulations still restrict gatherings, the GEMA exhibition also features a video projection of each of the artists speaking about their creations and sharing their COVID-19 experiences.

Ambrose Avellano, Mark Baglietto, Kimberley Bautista, Karl Ullger, Paul Cosquieri, Leslie Gaduzo, Michael Martínez and Aida Pérez are just some of the well-known names that can be found signed on the array of about 60 portraits on display. Artistic styles include oil paintings, watercolours, acrylics, charcoal, a photographic compilation, and a tapestry created using wool.

Among the faces featured on the portraits, with an abundance of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, are anonymous heroes dressed in medical gowns, gloves and masks. Also featured are police, teachers, politicians and a man called Lee Harold, the owner of a small Café called Eat and Chat, who cooked, collected and distributed over 450,065 meals for the homeless and those in need throughout the lockdown.

Portraits of our Frontline Workers Exhibition Gibraltar GEMA Davina Barbara

Davina Bárbara, Head of Cultural Development at the Gibraltar Cultural Services, told ReachExtra that the idea was well received by Gibraltarian artists, who at the time were confined to their homes, from the very beginning. “This exhibition serves as a tribute to the community; a gesture of gratitude to those who continued to provide essential services, in one way or another, but it also serves to bring our artists together in a very special way,” Davina told ReachExtra during the opening day.

Portraits of our Frontline Workers Exhibition Gibraltar GEMA Davina Barbara
Davina Barbara, Head of Cultural Development at Gibraltar Cultural Services

According to Davina, some of the artists already personally knew those they had chosen to paint, while others had the opportunity to get to know their “models” during the lockdown, creating new friendships and offering them a “focus and inspiration during these challenging times”, and this has been reflected at the exhibition.

“Each one of these works tells a story”

“We are really pleased with how well the initiative has been received by the public and that so many artists accepted the challenge, we now have about 60 works of art on display. Some of these artists are well known, others are experiencing their first time seeing their paintings at an exhibition, many had to make do with the materials they had to hand at home, because we were in full lockdown, and you couldn’t go out and buy certain things … But each one of these works tells a story, and we are immensely proud to have brought them all together”, Davina added.

Portraits of our Frontline Workers Exhibition Gibraltar GEMA Davina Barbara

A poster at the entrance of the gallery (which is open as from 11:00 to 15:00, with hygiene measures and social distancing in place) actively encourages visitors to take photos and videos (without flash) with the aim of having them shared on social media. Davina said that the COVID19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions, which saw events being cancelled en masse, highlighted the importance of online virtual tours as a popular way to showcase cultural events to the world and also a kind of digital “forum”, in which the artistic and cultural community could keep in touch and break with the feeling of isolation. “Social media has always been an ally of art and culture, even before confinement, without a doubt, but in these days, even more so… it will continue to be this way too, in one way or another.”

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