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Science Museum Group acquires Roxana Halls' painting

  • Artist Roxana Halls’ portrait of NHS worker Katie Tomkins is joining the Science Museum Group Collection 
  • Portrait captures Katie in her role as Mortuary and Post-Mortem Services Manager at West Hertfordshire NHS Trust, at the height of the pandemic
  • The artwork was shared as part of Tom Croft’s series on Instagram entitled ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes
  • Roxana Halls featured on Extraordinary Portraits, episode 1 aired on BBC One at 18.30 on Sunday 27 February.
Katie Tomkins, Mortuary and Post-Mortem Services Manager, by Roxana Halls Science Museum Group © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London
Katie Tomkins, Mortuary and Post-Mortem Services Manager, by Roxana Halls

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. 

Roxana Halls, said: ‘In combination with [Katie’s] contemporariness, her style suggested for me something of the Rosie the Riveter archetype and the wartime portraits of Dame Laura Knight. I hoped with my portrait to evoke something of the focus, resolve and heroism of Knight’s subjects, placing Katie within the sanitized realm of her highly-skilled and indescribably challenging work.’ 

Selina Hurley, Curator of Medicine, said: ‘I’m delighted to share that we have acquired this beautiful and haunting artwork for the Science Museum Group Collection. Traditionally portraits have been commissioned to capture the likeness of an illustrious patron, but Halls’ portrait of Katie captures the work of a team often forgotten about, mortuary services and the key role they play. While we just get a snapshot of Katie, her determination, pride and empathy shine through in this colourful, uplifting painting, where Halls introduces us to the person behind the PPE.’

Katie Tomkins, Mortuary and Post-Mortem Services Manager joins the Science Museum Group Collection through the Science Museum Group’s COVID-19 Collecting Project which provides an insight into the medical and scientific advancements of the last two years, but also a sense of the emotional impact of the pandemic. Artworks created in response to the virus provide an insight into this emotional impact, on the collective and the individual, as artists seek to make an invisible force tangible, and express their own hopes and fears in a way that will resonate with others. 

Other artworks acquired for COVID-19 Collecting Project so far include Angela Palmer’s glass sculpture of coronavirus, 2020: The Sphere that Changed the World, a haunting take on the iconic image of the multi-pronged virus that has embedded itself in the public consciousness. While Angela’s piece explores the image of the virus itself, Roxana’s capture the incredible heroism shown by frontline workers during an unprecedented time. 

You can read an interview with Angela about her work by Science Museum Group Science Director, Roger Highfield here on the Science Museum Group blog.

ENDS

Notes to editors

For more information please contact Freya Barry at freya.barry@sciencemuseum.ac.uk or on 020 7942 4327. You can download an image of the portrait here.

ABOUT THE SCIENCE MUSEUM GROUP

The Science Museum Group is the world’s leading group of science museums, welcoming over five million visitors each year to five sites: the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York; the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester; the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford; and Locomotion in Shildon. We share the stories of innovations and people that shaped our world and are transforming the future, constantly reinterpreting our astonishingly diverse collection of 7.3 million items spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Standout objects include the record-breaking locomotive Flying Scotsman, Richard Arkwright’s textile machinery, Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE computer and the earliest surviving recording of British television. Our mission is to inspire futures - igniting curiosity among people of all ages and backgrounds. Each year, our museums attract more than 600,000 visits by education groups, while our touring exhibition programme brings our creativity and scholarship to audiences across the globe. More information can be found on our website.

About the COVID-19 Collecting Project

Since the pandemic began, curators across the Science Museum Group have sensitively identified and begun  acquiring important items for the Science Museum Group Collection as part of our significant COVID-19 Collecting Project. These items provide a permanent record for future generations of medical, scientific, cultural and personal responses to the outbreak and chronicle its impact on society. Items joining the Science Museum Group Collection include historic empty vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines which were used to administer the first worldwide mass vaccinations (kindly donated by the NHS), signage from the Government’s daily briefings, prototype ventilators and other medical devices, COVID-19 testing kits, coronavirus-themed greetings cards, homemade masks, hand sanitiser dispensers from the transport network, supermarket signage, a wooden spoon broken banging a saucepan during the weekly clap for carers, ephemera such as newspaper front pages and now-postponed wedding invitations and a range of national and international artworks.