A POIGNANT exhibition providing people the opportunity to pause and reflect on the coronavirus pandemic is being launched as part of a gallery’s tenth anniversary milestone.

Firstsite, in Colchester, was approached by the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group last June to make a project which recorded what NHS staff went through during the pandemic.

Working with a number of artists, including Alec Finlay and Roland Carline, key workers took part in a series of workshops to explore their experiences of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent effects it had on their lives.

An exhibition called Art for Life is a result of these workshops and it reflects the significance of nature, walking and touch, as well as notions of diary keeping.

The exhibition is running from May 17 until September 5.

Alongside new artworks made by contemporary artists, Art for Life also features specially-selected loans from the Arts Council Collection and a host of pieces made by the key workers who took part in the initial workshops.

Exhibition - Mothers Touch by Evewright

Exhibition - Mother's Touch by Evewright

There will also be artworks made by NHS art psychotherapists who gave up their time to support the sessions.

Several of the artists involved suffer from the long-term Covid or have lost family members during the crisis.

One of the most heartbreaking images in the exhibition is Everton Wright’s Mother’s Touch, a photograph the artist took during some of the last moments he spent with his mother before she died of respiratory failure.

Wright, known as Evewright, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has forced humanity to talk about death again and come to terms with new ways of dealing with loss in its raw naked state.

“This artwork has been a way for me to start the healing process.

“Even now when listening to the doctor giving me the bad news about the death of my mother from that very low emotional point in my life, I was able to start to rebuild again.

“In a way to show such a work exposes my underbelly, it is an on-going process of healing for me.”

Alongside the collection of artworks, the key workers recount their experiences of Covid-19 via a series of films which play in the space.

Sally Shaw, Firstsite director, said: “Art for Life offers us an opportunity to reflect on all the things that became important under lockdown and the different strategies and coping mechanisms we have used to find our way through a world which changed almost overnight.

“Among the heartbreaking aspects of it, there are lighter moments that show how people discovered newfound creativity and used their lockdown time to try something different.”

“As we move out of, hopefully, the last lockdown, Art for Life may provide a cathartic experience for many and offers us all a space to reflect, connect through shared experiences and be inspired by our community’s strength and resilience throughout this challenging time.

Ed Garratt, accountable officer for the NEECCG, said: “We are extremely grateful to Firstsite for their work to record the experiences of health and care staff during this extraordinary time in history.

“The physical and emotional toll on staff has been immense but it has also been immense for other frontline workers and for many people in the communities we serve.

“Accepting the challenges we have faced and those we still face, the losses we have suffered and the lessons we have learned, will all be part of the recovery process and art can help us to do that, whether we create it ourselves or view the work of others.”