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Art installation unveiled at St James’s Hospital honours healthcare staff’s work during the pandemic

2 min read

Art installation unveiled at St James’s Hospital honours healthcare staff’s work during the pandemic

2 min read


Art installation unveiled at St James’s Hospital honours healthcare staff’s work during the pandemic

The art installation by street artist Asbestos was recently unveiled at St James’s Hospital, Dublin, in tribute to the work of the hospital and its healthcare staff over the past two years of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled ‘Unmasked’, this gold leaf portrait collage of the hard-working people behind the face masks was commissioned by St James’s Hospital, St James’s Hospital Foundation and Creative Ireland.

Inspired by traditional gold leaf icon paintings, Asbestos worked with photographer Anthony Edwards of St James’s Hospital to take portraits of eight St James’s staff. The portraits were then recreated as photo collages onto gold leaf trays. Each tray has two doors covering the bottom half of the subject’s face, representing the masks they wore during the pandemic. These doors can be opened up to unmask the individuals we have been unable to see over the past two years.  

Participants included Clinical Nurse Manager Bernie Waterhouse, Healthcare Assistant Shirley Morgan, Consultant Geriatrician and Stroke Physician Professor Joe Harbison, and Security and Site Contract Manager Ronnie Weston.

Speaking of his conversations with these healthcare workers, Asbestos explained:

“We chose eight individuals that represent different roles and experiences in the hospital. I’ve discovered how they coped with wearing a mask, found new ways to communicate and interact with patients, and discovered the solace and reassurance that the mask brings as a symbol of safety and protection. Wearing masks often created a barrier that made it nearly impossible to communicate with patients, but as much as they wanted to stop wearing masks, these healthcare workers also felt that wearing them provided reassurance that they were keeping patients and each other safe.”


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In Asbestos’ work, he explores the meaning of masks and how powerful a symbol they are. The word ‘persona’ comes from the tradition of Greek theatre, where an actor covers their face with several different masks, so they could change persona. In this way, he explores different persona with each mask created or each exploration of what masks mean. In this case, he’s showing individuals unmasked after two years behind a ‘blue barrier’.

Welcoming the unveiling of the installation on the St James’s Hospital campus, CEO of St James’s Hospital Mary Day said: “The staff members portrayed in the ‘Unmasked’ mural are representative of all St James’s Hospital staff, and indeed all of our healthcare workers nationwide, in recognition of their tireless efforts, courage, determination, expertise and compassion in providing healthcare services to patients and families during the pandemic.”

“St James’s Hospital Foundation has been proud to engage with The Creative Life Hub at the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing here at St James’s Hospital to use the arts to support hospital staff wellbeing and boost morale. Through this support, we have witnessed first-hand the benefits of the arts on staff wellbeing. ‘Unmasked’ honours the strengths and vulnerabilities of our frontline staff and allied healthcare professionals who gave their utmost during the pandemic, and continue to do so. For this, we are eternally indebted to them,” commented Dermot McEvoy, Chairman, St James’s Hospital Foundation.

“As an all-of-government wellbeing programme, Creative Ireland recognises the power of the arts in healthcare settings. The HSE’s Mental Health Promotion Plan will strengthen the role of arts and creativity in the promotion of mental health and wellbeing for healthcare staff. I can think of no better example of putting policy into practice than this wonderful initiative. This is just a small gift from Creative Ireland to say thank you to all staff of St James’s Hospital for all they did during COVID-19,” said Tania Banotti, Director of the Creative Ireland Programme.

‘Unmasked’ was made possible through funding by St James’s Hospital, the St James’s Hospital Foundation (through donations made by the public in support of frontline workers’ wellbeing during the pandemic) and Creative Ireland.

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