The custodian’s photo exhibit hopes to help the public value essential workers

by Sally James

A mother and daughter want you to look twice when you see a guard in a hallway.

The art exhibition, titled (in) Visibility, consists of a series of photographs, mostly taken by the guardians themselves, many of whom are immigrants or people of color. Curator Evalynn Fae Taggana Romano is using the images to fight what the pandemic has highlighted for her: that the company was ignoring the caretakers, including her own mother, Evalina.

As a public health student at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Evalynn was struck by the disparity between essential workers. At first, she saw some being given free food or flowers or personal protective equipment. Later, these same people had early access to vaccines. But guards were not entitled to this preferential treatment, although they were essential in keeping buildings clean, hospitals tidy, and schools safe.

“I’ve seen a lot of social media around educating and recognizing healthcare workers and bringing them food. And I didn’t see the same action against the guards and I was pretty, I guess, sorry that my mother had to work again during the pandemic, ”recalled the young Romano.

Mom and daughter gave this emerald postpone a tour of the exhibit, which is in a hallway of the University of Washington Art Building that Evalina cleans during her work day.

The exhibition features more than 30 photographs, almost all taken by working curators. One of curator Romano’s favorites is the image of a cart full of cleaning supplies. Its title is “My Yellow Shield”.

Romano, who lives in Beacon Hill, is a social worker and public health researcher. She received two master’s degrees in June, one in public health and the other in social work, from the University of Washington, more than 25 years after her mother arrived in Seattle from the Philippines.

“I used to come to work with my mother when I was little. Sometimes we would have lunch in her cleaning cupboard, ”she said, as the two sat side by side on a bench in the lobby of the art building, answering questions and leaning towards each other. ‘other. They became particularly close after the death of Evalynn’s father in 2000. He was also a caretaker.

The photo of the cart is special, her daughter Romano explained, because each cart is so personal and arranged differently from the others to match the particular style of a single keeper. Each person hangs their supplies wherever they want, according to their complicated methods and preferences.

Underneath the photo of “My Yellow Shield” is a caption, partly in Tagalog, which reads: “To avoid having COVID. This yellow shield will represent you who you are. Lalo lalo in the nag-aaral student building. (Especially for students who study in construction.) Yes, not just for me, for everyone.

Evalina told the emerald she is happy to see the project hanging in the Art Building where she works. She notices that her fellow guardians are talking about the exhibit. “We all feel happy,” she said.

One of the guardian artists is Gina Tabasan, who spoke with the emerald by telephone. His photograph is that of a hanging paper mask.

“I find [the exhibit] exciting, ”Tabasan said. She said it was difficult when the company was praising other essential workers, but no one mentioned the guards. She worked at the University of Washington for 24 years, some in a campus laundry and others as a babysitter.

Another photo on the screen shows the backs of two bus seats. A sign warns to leave enough space between the runners. The photographer calls the photo “Empty seat, empty heart”. They wrote: “I took a picture of my empty heart while driving an empty bus due to a pandemic. “

Other photos in the exhibit include views of family life and recreation, including landscapes, shooting hoops and entertaining friends.

Romano has been defending the wardens in his free time since the start of the pandemic. It started with bringing coffee and baked goods to UW custodians and expanded into an advocacy and fundraising project, including a grant to help custodians take their own photos for the art exhibition. Since March 2020, she has raised approximately $ 40,000 for the UW depository project.

More recently, she bought sturdy shoes called Hokas to donate to the keepers. She hopes to improve the lives of these keepers beyond food and shoes. His big dreams are to obtain better wages and working conditions for the guards. She also hopes that the photo exhibit could be shown in different places, on campus or elsewhere, so that more people begin to recognize these workers and the important work they do.

“I have the impression that health workers and custodians are both public health workers, and yet a profession is increasingly recognized, is more valued and is more emphasized”, Romano said.

Once the visit is over, mom and her daughter leave. Their feet walk on a sparkling floor made shining earlier by Evalina’s hard work.

(in) Visibility will be until December 10.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Evalynn Fae Taggano Romano’s name. The Emerald regrets this error.

Sally james is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of his work on She has written on biotechnology, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.

?? Featured image: Art exhibit curator Evalynn Fae Taggana Romano, left, and her mother, Evalina Taggana Romano, at the exhibit hangs in a hallway of the University of Washington Art Building. Babysitter Evalynn cleans this room every day. (Photo: Sally James)

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