At the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, twelve hospital beds are covered in blooms as a tribute to frontliners who died fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The installation called "Whispering Flower Beds" was designed by acclaimed visual artist Toym Imao, who first heard of the unused hospital beds from scriptwriter Bibeth Orteza, wife of film director Carlos Siguion-Reyna.
Siguion-Reyna was only visiting PGH for a swab test when he saw piles of condemned hospital beds just lying on a side street. The beds were apparently set to be donated to other public hospitals, as PGH upgraded theirs.
But to the artist, the retired beds signified a lot more, as it reflected stories of immense loss experienced in the past year by medical frontliners particularly at PGH, the ground zero of pandemic response in the country.
Orteza shared the story to Imao, master of telling stories out of condemned objects. Imao happened to have a meeting set at PGH two days later, where he sought the opportunity to see the beds in person.
"I, myself, was overcome with the power that these beds emanated, 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," he said.
That idea bloomed, just as flowers would when they are watered, when he collaborated with other activists and artists, along with the families and colleagues of fallen frontliners themselves to build the installation.
"We strongly believe we were “kinalabit” by our spirit guardians when a few weeks before the first year anniversary of the country’s pandemic lockdown, things happened among kindred spirits in arts and advocacies that led us to collaborate to create this art installation/tribute to our fallen frontliners," Imao said.
On March 30, a tribute program titled “Aluyan ng Paghilom” will be held at the Oblation Plaza in front of PGH where the installation is at. It would mark exactly one year since the public hospital was converted into the country's main COVID referral center.
Until then, more and more flowers will be planted and watered by frontliners themselves, together with kins and friends of their fallen colleagues.
"We do hope that through this installation, we would continue to be vigilant and demand more from our leaders’ policies and response to this pandemic. That we never forget our fallen frontliners; and remember that our health care workers continue to be our first line of defense and lifeline against this outbreak. Remember the fallen and continue to fight for our rights amid this pandemic," he added.