‘The year that transformed the world’: US museum launches Covid exhibition | Miami

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From months of lockdown to seemingly endless mask wearing, homeschooling and the tedium of Zoom meetings, there are few aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic that those living through it will want to remember.

But in Miami, at least, it is going to be impossible to forget. Artifacts and memories of the deadliest global pandemic in a century are on display at what is probably the nation’s first comprehensive coronavirus museum exhibition, forming an enduring testament to an unprecedented era.

Highlights of the collection at the downtown HistoryMiami museum include personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by doctors who treated Covid-19 patients at a local hospital; an emergency beach closure order sign from Miami Beach; a sign from a closed, open, then closed again restaurant; a high school student’s mortarboard from her drive-through graduation ceremony; and a younger student’s school workbook from online learning.

There are colorful handmade posters from drive-by birthday celebrations and first responder appreciation parades; vials of two of the first Pfizer vaccines administered at Jackson Memorial hospital; and a jar of hand sanitizer produced by Toast, a vodka company that switched operations at its Miami distillery early in the pandemic.

Arguably the star exhibit is the gown and scythe belonging to the Grim Reaper, an outfit worn by a Florida attorney on several of the state’s crowded beaches last spring as he protested against the refusal of Governor Ron DeSantis to close them down.

Daniel Uhlfelder, who is from Miami and majored in history before going on to practice law in Florida’s Panhandle, said the preservation of his costume was a powerful reminder of the politicization of the pandemic.

“I hope people look at it and see what our elected officials and other people were doing wrong, and ignoring and lying and politicizing and scapegoating,” he said.

“And I hope they see that there were people that decided to do something peacefully and creatively and honestly and courageously, and took things into their own hands. It’s a symbol of trying to get the public’s attention in a powerful way to get leaders to do the right thing.”

‘I hope people look at it and see what our elected officials and other people were doing wrong, and ignoring and lying and politicizing and scapegoating,’ said Daniel Uhlfelder.
‘I hope people look at it and see what our elected officials and other people were doing wrong, and ignoring and lying and politicizing and scapegoating,’ said Daniel Uhlfelder. Photograph: Douglas Lance/Courtesy of HistoryMiami

Jorge Zamanillo, HistoryMiami’s executive director and curator, said his team realized early in the pandemic that it was living history, and set about chronicling events as part of the museum’s Collecting 2020 initiative, which incorporates memorabilia from the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, and November’s divisive elections.

Other artifacts include a BLM jersey worn by Miami Heat basketball star Bam Adebayo, a prominent supporter of the racial justice movement; protest signs from BLM rallies that took place in Miami; and election materials, including some from the campaign of Danielle Levine Cara, Miami-Dade county’s first female mayor.

“It was the year that really transformed the nation, the world and locally … we all pivoted and changed the way we live,” Zamanillo said. “We’re in the middle of this historic moment and what we are recording is a historical narrative that we are going to keep going back to and reading about.”

Zamanillo said he recognized that people were keen to put the pandemic behind them, but it was important to archive their stories, even as they were still being affected by them. The museum has encouraged the public to send in their written or recorded memories.

“You start to realize how personal it is, the impact emotionally on their family. Did they lose a loved one, did they contract Covid, or how did it affect their lives? Did they lose their jobs, or their business? Are they frontline workers?

“When we look back in five, 10, 15 years, we’re going to have not just the artifacts, but the stories of how we hopefully learned as a community, how we survived this, how we transformed ourselves and how we improved.”

The concept of chronicling the pandemic is not unique to Miami. Similar initiatives are under way in several other cities across the US and Canada, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC, for example, plans to exhibit a 3D-model of the virus created by Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert. The museum already has a diverse Stories of 2020 collection online.

In Miami, Zamanillo noted, the public can already visit the physical exhibition, albeit in restricted numbers due to Covid protocols.

He said the collection was intended to be a comprehensive educational tool for future visitors, both locals and tourists, who would ask specific questions: “What made this special for you? How do you remember this moment? What are the stories and artifacts that relate to these things that help you remember this unforgettable year?” he said.

“As painful as things may be right now, if we’re not the gatekeepers, the ones that make the effort to preserve these memories, no one else will.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘The year that transformed the world’: US museum launches Covid exhibition | Miami

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