This digital photograph depicts Melbourne-based street artist Justine Millsom and her friend Ella painting a wall mural titled 'Thank You Health Care Heroes' during the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.
Located in Caulfield North, Melbourne, within walking distance to Cabrini Hospital, this mural was created to pay homage to healthcare workers, and thank them for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic. In late 2020, Justine Millsom reflected: 'The key message behind this mural was firstly to acknowledge and thank the frontline workers for their work and sacrifices, and secondly to give the community something uplifting and of interest that addressed these strange times.'
At the time of painting this mural, Justine was part of a duo team called Juzpop Creations that she had founded in 2018 alongside her business partner Mark Aidone. After a successful stint in Mexico the pair had been looking forward to travelling overseas again to continue expanding their commissioned work opportunities, but the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic put an immediate halt to these plans. 'Like many other artists, COVID-19 threw a massive spanner in the works for our lives and business as we knew it', Justine reflected in August 2020, '2020 was going to be a big year for us painting international murals in places like the United States, but we were suddenly unable to travel and also unable to paint murals on non-construction sites.'
With restrictions making it impossible to paint on non-construction sites, Justine's options to paint murals became extremely limited. Then an exciting phone call came from David Orlanski of DO Architects, who decided to commission the Thank You Healthcare Heroes mural on his construction site in Caulfield North. Highly aware of the significant efforts that healthcare workers were making on the frontline, David wanted to focus the artwork on a positive message of community support, particularly given the close proximity of his construction site to neighbouring hospitals.
Justine was grateful for the opportunity to work on such a piece, and together with her business partner Mark, and close friend Ella, she set about designing the concept for the mural. Butterflies were chosen to symbolise change, the earthy colours were selected to blend in with the natural environment and the masked woman was chosen to represent 'a woman of the earth saying thank you.'
For Justine, painting the Thank You Health Care Heroes became a way to connect with her community, and in turn, she found that it created a space for community to come together and share their stories and experiences. 'Nurses and family and friends of nurses would give honks of celebration as they drove past on their way to work, some would pull up in front of the mural and take photos and thank me. It was always a conversation starter with the local community walking by; most people would stop for a chat and local photographers came out to take photos too. It felt pretty special that so many people appreciated it.'
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, street art in Australia and worldwide proved to be an important means through which artists could express themselves during a challenging time. Justine believes that street art also provided a vehicle for community connection and civic healing. 'For dark times in general, I believe street art can be the light in someone's day, a means to connect with another, a means to connect with our surroundings. I think the public need and deserve art in the urban setting more than ever right now. Life's not meant to be lived in grayscale. The streets need colour and energy to uplift and rejuvenate its people, and I feel that is the most important and valuable thing I can offer as an artist.'
This photograph is one of three photographs depicting the Thank You Health Care Heroes mural that were collected as part of the Museum In My Neighbourhood project with support from the Office of Suburban Development. These photographs form part of the Collecting the Curve Collection and will provide a lasting reminder of the way that artists responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the vital role that healthcare workers played on the frontline.
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