Claudia La Bianca has always loved superheroes.
"That was my main thing when I was little," she says. "Throughout the years, they've always been something I've been fascinated by."
La Bianca says that, as a child growing up in Bagheria, Sicily, her love of superheroes helped her endure bullying and influenced her later work. She has since become known for her murals depicting strong, sexy, confident women and carrying messages of female empowerment. Many of the works adorn walls in Wynwood; in 2018, Unite in Love, which shows Michelle Obama and Melania Trump embracing in front of a stylized American flag, drew national attention. A series of recurring characters she calls her "Graffiti Girls" seem oddly appropriate for the moment: They wear spray-paint cans in their hair as rollers and protect their faces with masks.
Now La Bianca is turning her attention to the nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to remind them that they too are superheroes.
La Bianca began monitoring COVID-19 updates as she received news from her family back in Italy, which has been under a nationwide lockdown since March 9.
"My mom is 81 years old and she lives alone, and she's afraid of going to get food. Two of my sisters are over there with their kids and their husbands, and nobody is going out. It's really sad," she says. "I think that's where the inspiration came from, because I was following it so closely. Before it even got here, I was already feeling it."
The idea for a drawing came to her as she learned about what healthcare workers were experiencing as they fought the virus. She borrowed her daughter's iPad and began to draw an image of four nurses as superheroes. Wearing their scrubs, with one clad in a star-studded cape, they strike poses of power and determination, fighting for and protecting us all.
La Bianca titled the drawing Our Heroes.
"I believe there's a hero inside all of us, that any of us can be an everyday hero," she says. "This is really for the nurses and the doctors. The message is, You're a hero, you can do it, and you're going to take care of lives."
Partnering with a chef friend who was donating soup to hospitals around South Florida, La Bianca printed posters of Our Heroes and sent them to the medical facilities as encouragement.
"The responses from the nurses were amazing, saying how they're so inspired when they go to work," she tells New Times. "I'm all about empowerment, so however I can use my art to empower whoever needs it the most, that's my goal, that's my purpose in life."
As the image gained popularity, La Bianca decided to expand the project. She reached out to six South Florida hospitals to offer to paint a unique mural for each on one of their exterior walls. So far, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Florida Medical Center, Hialeah Hospital, Coral Gables Hospital, and North Shore Medical Center have signed on.
Jackson, the first hospital to approve the project, designated a wall at its front entrance for La Bianca's mural. She'll be the first Wynwood artist to have a mural at the public hospital.
"Our caregivers are facing unprecedented challenges every day when they come to work, so having this beautiful, powerful mural prominently displayed on our campus will undoubtedly be a source of inspiration," says Jennifer Piedra, communication and outreach director of the facility. "It will be highly visible to healthcare workers, patients, and visitors throughout the health district."
La Bianca says she celebrated female nurses in Our Heroes because they don't often receive the same recognition and acclaim as doctors. But she plans to include male doctors and nurses in some of the forthcoming murals, all of which will resemble comic-book covers and continue the superhero theme. She hopes to finish all of them by May 12, International Nurses Day, and intends to donate part of the project's budget to a nurses' association.
"Art transforms; art inspires; art is an extremely powerful tool," she says. "It's a war right now that we are fighting. The enemy is the virus, and our soldiers are our nurses and our doctors. With art, we can bring something like hope or strength or empowerment to them."
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