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Giving Hope, and a Place to Mourn: Memorials to the Pandemic

The Codogno memorial is not the first in Lombardy, one of the Italian regions first affected by the coronavirus. Last August, the nearby town of Casalpusterlengo unveiled a memorial designed by Ottorino Buttarelli, a local artist, featuring stones piled into a small tower, to represent townspeople who have died.

In an email exchange, Buttarelli said he had involved the town’s residents in the memorial’s creation. He asked them to go to the nearby Po river to collect stones for the structure, and many wrote the names of loved ones they had lost on them, sometimes adding personal messages or decorating them with stars and hearts.

“We realized the need and urgency people had to mourn,” Buttarelli said. “People in this village were left to die in solitude and silence, often without a funeral. Bringing the stone and writing the name became the funeral,” he continued.

“Unfortunately, we are still adding names,” Buttarelli added.

While the Italian memorials have been intimate and local in character, in Britain, there have also been calls for more traditional monuments. Earlier this month, The Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid newspaper, started a campaign for a statue to be erected in memory of Tom Moore, an army veteran, better known as “Captain Tom,” who raised tens of millions of pounds for Britain’s health service during the pandemic. He died from Covid-19 in February.

Jeremy Deller, a British artist who has designed several works of public art, said in a telephone interview that making any large central memorial to the pandemic would be difficult: It has no clear icons, and simply too many people had died to write all the names on a single structure, like a war memorial.

His own proposal — which he created as a print and offered for sale in a drive to help British museums struggling during the pandemic — was a huge, golden statue of a pangolin. Scientists once thought that the virus may have jumped from pangolins to humans (though many now reject that suggestion), and the fantasy monument could make people think about humanity’s relationship with animals, Deller said.

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