Harris Health Dedicates Permanent Site for COVID-19 Pandemic Memorial Exhibit

Style Magazine Newswire | 11/9/2023, 12:33 p.m.
Nearly 1,000 photographs of people who died during the COVID-19 pandemic from greater Houston are now permanently memorialized on the …
(Courtesy of Harris Health) Dedication Group: A dedication of Living ICONS, A Commemoration of Victims of Houston’s COVID-19 Pandemic has a permanent display site at Harris Health Quentin Mease Health Center. Joining the celebration and the unveiling of a Quentin Mease art piece are (l-r) Belinda Moreno, Jennifer Small, Joni Zavitsano, Lesley Briones, Esmaeil Porsa, Mary Mandola, Vinceanne Mandola and Dana Corbet.

Nearly 1,000 photographs of people who died during the COVID-19 pandemic from greater Houston are now permanently memorialized on the walls of Harris Health Quentin Mease Health Center through an art exhibit called Living ICONS, A Commemoration of Victims of Houston’s COVID-19 Pandemic, by Houston artist Joni Zavitsano.

“More than the art, this is a reminder of not only the tremendous negative impact of COVID-19 on our lives and our communities, including the loss of the lives of individuals who have impacted all of us especially their families and loved ones,” Esmaeil Porsa, MD, president and CEO, Harris Health, told a gathering of 100 people at the health center during a dedication ceremony on Oct. 30. “It's a reminder of the fact that we did go through this—COVID-19 did happen and thousands of lives were lost.”

Living ICONS found its permanent home after nearly two and half years on display at the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science. The exhibit features photographs donated by family members and reimagined by Zavitsano in a Byzantine-style halo treatment using 18-carat gold leaf. Arranged in a grid format, the photos adorn the first two floors of Harris Health’s specialty facility located in Third Ward near the Texas Medical Center.

“This project and the creative catalyst it generated found its way to my heart as I watched news story after news story reporting deaths in the various counties around the city of Houston,” Zavitsano says. “I was deeply troubled by the anonymity of these victims. Towards the end of March 2020, shortly after the lockdown, I began searching for names and families of Houston area victims of COVID-19 so that I could personally and individually honor them.”

For Susan Reyes Cardenas, seeing her mother’s (Mary Jean Reyes) photo in the exhibit is an honor and a fitting tribute to a woman who died alone in the hospital because of COVID.

“So many families were not able to see their loved ones because we didn’t know about the disease and didn’t want to spread it, and children or significant others were not allowed to be near them,” she recalls. “Now, their legacy will live on in this beautiful exhibit. We’re so happy that we can come back to Quentin Mease to visit her. We know that her picture will be here and we’re so thankful.”

Vinceanne Mandola and Dana Corbet, daughters of Vincent Mandola, a Houston restaurateur who also died of COVID, shared a similar story of not being with their father during his hospitalization. Luckily, one of his nurses managed to get him to a hospital window where he saw his extended family jumping and waving signs and posters of support from outside. Unfortunately, 16 days later he died.

“Seeing his photo with my mom (Mary Mandola) is a happy memory and one that honors his commitment to family, and one that we will treasure forever,” Corbet says.

During the dedication, Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones presented Zavitsano a certificate of appreciation for her art work. She also used the opportunity to challenge attendees to honor the lives of those who died of COVID-19.

“We must remember and always take this legacy, and not only cherish it in our hearts, but put it into action in our communities. How can we help our neighbors and friends in need?” she adds. “How can we support our first responders and front-line workers? What more can we do and not only when the next pandemic or next travesty strikes the world?”

Zavitsano concluded by thanking family members for their support of Living ICONS. “You allowed me to do this,” she told family members in the crowd. “It was a hard thing for many of you, but you allowed your loved one to be seen and remembered. Now, their memories are eternal.”

Quentin Mease Health Center is a newly renovated five-story specialty facility housings infectious disease and chronic dialysis services. The building honors Quentin R. Mease (1908-2009), an original member of Harris Health’s governing body in 1966, a trailblazer, a community leader and a strong advocate for the underserved in Harris County.