“I realized years ago in therapy that holding in emotions only hurts you further. I feel people are just either afraid to express or have never been asked to. I’m asking them now,” says Nico Hernandez, the artist behind the photo series The Remains of COVID and The COVIDing of Lucia.
Hernandez created The Remains of COVID and The COVIDing of Lucia in the wake of his mother’s passing from COVID-19 earlier this year. The related projects grapple with grief and loss through photo documentation. Hernandez is selling prints from The COVIDing of Lucia series through the El Paso Community Foundation to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
“The COVIDing of Lucia was my first inspiration,” Hernandez explains. “After my mother died, my brother and sister-in-law came over (to her house) and told me that the sympathy flowers I received had to be thrown out — the water smelled and there were dead leaves scattered on the floor. I couldn’t bear the thought. It would be like my mother’s death would be over and I wasn’t ready to be done mourning.”
Hernandez decided to photograph the flowers, the result of which is The COVIDing of Lucia. Each photograph in the series is titled according to the card that accompanied the arrangement: (we love you, T&L), (with love and prayers, Jennifer & John), (casket spray). Together, the photographs capture the experience of mourning – the haunting and the remembering.
By contrast, The Remains of COVID invites reflection on and celebration of the person who has been lost. Following his mother’s passing, Hernandez began clearing out his mother’s home, making difficult decisions as to what to keep and what to get rid of. As he came across photographs, diaries, and cards from holidays long past, he began to photograph them and share the photos with friends and family via Instagram.
“So many people expressed their sadness and wishes that they had such objects from their deceased loved ones,” Hernandez says. “My mom had so much stuff that I wanted to keep, I had to tell myself to edit, and that’s one of the ideas that inspired my project.”
Galvanized by the response of others, Hernandez decided to create The Remains of COVID. In addition to the photographs he took of his mother’s items, Hernandez has invited the public to submit photographs of items belonging to loved ones who have died from COVID-19. The Remains of COVID offers a collective gathering point for catharsis in the midst of an ongoing health crisis.
“It’s been interesting putting this project out into the world,” Hernandez says. “I realized that not everyone wants to discuss it. This reminds me so much of the AIDS epidemic. As a gay man, I experienced the fear of the virus and the loss of many friends and family. … People act like they are ashamed their loved one had COVID-19. As if, ‘How could their family be affected when so many are fine or barely got symptoms?’ My point is that exactly: how could this happen to me? I’m good. My mother’s a saint. How the … did this happen? It makes me angry. I want others to be OK expressing their anger and sadness … I am giving them a platform to do that.”
Hernandez hopes to continue collecting photographs for The Remains of COVID and eventually share them in a future exhibition and art book.
“There is an element of comfort in dealing with death,” Hernandez adds. “My hope is that others find it inspiring enough to participate by sharing their loved one’s keepsakes and find some healing.”
For more information on Hernandez and his work, visit his website.
To purchase a print from The COVIDing of Lucia, visit the El Paso Community Foundation’s page. 50% of proceeds go towards COVID-19 relief efforts.