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New art acquisition for the Science Museum

A portrait documenting the NHS frontline has been acquired by the Science Museum

The Science Museum Group is thrilled to announce it has acquired an artwork by Roxana Halls, Katie Tomkins, Mortuary and Post-Mortem Services Manager, as part of its COVID-19 Collecting Project capturing objects that speak to the experience of living through a pandemic. Viewers watching new BBC One show Extraordinary Portraits will meet Roxana and get an insight into her work and her creative process. 

The portrait of Katie was originally shared as part of a series started on Instagram by artist Tom Croft entitled ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes’. During the first national lockdown in spring 2020, working in his studio and listening to the rolling news cycle of the pandemic, Croft found himself keen to find ways of commemorating the incredible work undertaken by medical frontline staff to keep members of the public safe. He realised that sharing portraits of NHS workers would be one way to raise their status, say thank you, and immortalise their work for future generations. As part of the project over 13,000 paintings were created by artists around the world. 

Natalie Miles-Kemp, Head of Strategy Delivery at West Herts Hospitals Trust, nominated her colleague Katie for the project in recognition of Katie’s leadership during the pandemic. Post-mortem and mortuary services are rarely talked about publicly, and Roxana’s portrait of Katie shines a light on the tireless work of NHS staff working in mortuary services. People working in these services are not often thought of as frontline staff, but still have a crucial role to play in hospital life. ‘When I look at Roxana’s painting, I see someone who’s exhausted, slightly burned out, but determined to get the job done. That’s exactly how I felt.’ –  Katie Tomkins. 

Katie has over 20 years’ experience working in post-mortem services and anatomical pathology. Through a series of video and photographs, Roxana got to know Katie and her team and more about the services, respect and care they provide. As the manager of the service, Katie had a huge responsibility to the growing numbers of people who had died, their loved ones and to her team.  The portrait not only captures Katie’s personality but serves as a testament to the extra precautions staff across the NHS have had to take during the pandemic, and the unique challenges of working in mortuary services.

It was essential that Katie and her team protected themselves from coronavirus for their own health and to ensure their services remained open. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has long been worn by those working in post-mortem services to prevent potential infections but extra layers of PPE, and enhanced cleaning of their workspaces were also put in place to protect the team. The portrait captures the extra layers of PPE worn by Katie in this unique moment in time, as she places her visor over her head and prepares for another day. Roxana documented her process of painting Katie’s portrait on her Instagram account sharing details of Katie’s tattoos and PPE before revealing the final and finished image in June 2020. 

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