Personal Protective: A Physician Portrait Project

Project Objective In partnership with the Physician Mother Group (PMG), artist Kelly Marshall documents the sacrifices made by female-identifying physicians during the COVID-19 health crisis. For many of us, the anguish and loss of this pandemic remain in the shadows—numbers published on the news. But behind the scenes, healthcare workers are witnessing extraordinary tragedy every day, all while working long hours, under enormous pressure and in perilous conditions.

The Physician Portrait Project brings focus to the faces and stories of the women who act as both healers and witnesses. As a visual history of the COVID-19 crisis, the Project extends Marshall’s previous portraits of her sister-in-law over six days in a hospital emergency room. These paintings were motivated by Marshall’s response to her sister-in-law’s stories, and her shock at the scale of loss and labour facing healthcare workers. 


This earlier impulse to respond with art to her sister-in-law’s increasingly fatigued and distraught selfies has grown through Marshall’s partnership with PMG. Marshall’s larger project uses portraiture to shine light on the faces at the heart of the pandemic. Dozens of physicians will share reflections of their recent experiences in the medical community. Many of these physicians are mothers, and their caregiving roles in hospitals have required them to distance from their own children. Some have lost family members or suffered miscarriages, all while continuing to provide desperately needed medical attention to COVID patients.


While each physician’s personal experience is unique, their public endeavors share much common ground: they remark on a growing awareness of their social value—an awareness accompanied by an escalating physical and emotional toll. The Physician Portrait Project therefore seeks to memorialize the history of this moment in these doctors’ lives, and to use art as a form of care for those who give so much of themselves to others. Marshall thinks of her brushstrokes as a means of tracing the shape of the pandemic’s impact on female physicians, chronicling the struggle and sacrifice they embody. 


Each of Marshall’s portraits will be paired with a written narrative of the subject’s pandemic experience. As both a gallery exhibition and a print book, the series articulates with astonishing depth the remarkable journeys—at times harrowing, at others hopeful—undertaken by female physicians during a crisis whose demands they never expected to face.

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