There’s almost no way to comprehend the vast number of lives lost during the pandemic, but a new project on the grounds of the Washington Monument makes the numbers of this staggering loss visible. The installation contains one white flag for each COVID death, stretching over a vast area. The exhibit is there until October 3rd, and you can find out more about it on the In America: Remember website.
D.C.-based artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg has created several large-scale works conceptualizing social issues. She describes this exhibit as “a labor of love.” Find out more about her work on her website.
As the death toll keeps increasing, the numbers on the exhibit panel are updated.
From the ground, the extent of the flags seems enormous as it stretches over 20 acres.
But the only way to get an idea of how much territory is covered by the flags is to go up high. These photos are from the top of the Washington Monument:
Grieving and remembering
There are 3.8 miles of paths through the flags, and people are continually walking through the exhibit, both to see the whole display and to sit by the flags that represent their losses.
Remembering the individual lives lost
Names of loved ones can be written on the flags by visiting the reception center at the installation, or can be submitted through the website and volunteers will write out the names. There are thousands of dedications. Here are just a few of them:
Music among the flags
Every night at 6:00, musicians add to the solemn reverence of the place.
The installation took several days, with the help of many volunteers and the support of Ruppert Landscaping dedicating more than 2,000 hours to the project. The installers set down a grid and then filled it with flags, and then kept repeating and repeating this until they had installed more than 600,000 flags.
Why white flags?
Flags move beautifully in the breeze and produce a gentle rippling sound. The color white, individually represents purity and yet en masse suggests the surrender of humanity that occurs when deaths become just statistics.
White flags, planted in an array, are evocative of Arlington Cemetery, where we bury those who have protected us throughout the years. These white flags represent those whom we have not protected.from the FAQ on the website
The exhibit keeps expanding
The death toll keeps rising significantly even during the short period of this exhibit. This photo is taken just a couple of days after the photo at the top of this article, and there are already 5,100 more deaths.
Artist Suzanne Firstenberg, along with other volunteers, tries to keep up with the increasing toll by planting more flags, even in Wednesday night’s rain.
Last October, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg installed a similar exhibit on the parade grounds of the D.C. Armory. At that time, it seemed unfathomable that the death total was more than 200,000.
The flags filled the entire parade ground at that time, covering 3 acres. Now, the death total is three times higher, and the exhibit at the Washington Monument covers 20 acres.
If you can’t get to the exhibit on the Washington Monument grounds before it closes on October 3rd, you can view it through a live cam video on the website.