Doctors’ coats turned into COVID-fighting art in Panama

PANAMA CITY (AFP) – Artist Genaro Rodriguez was so moved after being commissioned to turn a COVID-19 doctor’s white coat into a piece of art that he likened the experience to “painting a superhero’s cape”.

Rodriguez is one of 22 Panamanian artists asked to transform frontline health workers’ lab coats into auction-ready artwork to raise money for anti-virus equipment in the Central American country.

Using acrylic paints, Rodriquez worked geometric patterns in vivid colours on to the white cotton garment.

“In my work, I use a lot of grey, but here I used the white that was already in the coat instead, because for me it carries a meaning of hope,” he told AFP in Panama City.

Each of the two dozen coats in the collection bears its doctor’s nametag, which forms part of the final work.

The lab coat Rodriguez painted belongs to Head of the Intensive Care Department at the city’s Santo Tomas public hospital Fulvia Vergara.

Examining it at a viewing, Vergara admitted to feeling moved at seeing her coat transformed.

View of white coats used by doctors fighting against COVID-19 and decorated by Panamanian artists, in Panama City. PHOTOS: AFP
Auction’s Hall Director Ricardo Gago shows painted white coats used by doctors fighting against COVID-19

“For a doctor, it is like a cape that identifies and protects at the same time,” she said.

In the capital’s Cangrejo district, artist Rolo De Sedas studies the coat he was given, now painted in green and featuring a female figure inspired by Panamanian folklore.

De Sedas said working on the garment briefly gave him a glimpse of what life was like for the doctor who owned it, racing down hospital corridors to attend to virus victims.

“None of the objects I’ve worked on before has held so much meaning or so much life,” De Sedas said.

The 24 coats, which will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, feature landscapes, animals, geometric figures, imaginary viruses and the eyes of an anguished child.

There are also garments with surreal images evoking Asian culture or works by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.

“What I wanted above all was to pay a tribute to the doctors who have been the heroes of this pandemic,” said artist Olga Sinclair.

“Art has the quality to embellish and adorn any circumstance,” and these works, she said, will become “a testament to loyalty, solidarity and beauty”.

Panama has the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Central America, with more than 111,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths.

The auction will be held virtually from October 1-4, and the organisers say that the proceeds will be used to purchase equipment for health centres.

“They really need a great deal of help, not only medical supplies for COVID, but also equipment,” said President of the Rotary Club of Panama Ricardo Gago.

The opening price for each work is USD1,000, though the organisers believe bidding will go higher, and expect to raise well in excess of USD24,000 for the 24 coats.

“Each of these coats is a piece of cloth loaded with humanity,” painter and sculptor Eduardo Navarro said.

“The pandemic has made us see life with different eyes.”