Artist Aquil Virani presents “124” in support of Ontario’s nurses and health care workers.

Presented in solidarity with Ontario’s nurses and health care workers, this “124” project shows photographs from my recent hospitalization in Toronto.

I received wonderful care from nurses and health care workers over eight weeks in care with a rare neurological condition. I created this artwork as a way to document a personally tumultuous time while protesting Doug Ford’s Bill 124 (currently in the court system) that restricted the wages of nurses who constantly go above and beyond what is asked of them to support a healthy Ontario. Read more in the Q&A below. 

For context, what is Bill 124 and why was it so important in Ontario?

From the Ontario Nurses Association website: “In 2019, the Ford government introduced and passed Bill 124, wage-suppression legislation negatively impacting registered nurses, nurse practitioners, health-care professionals and other public-sector workers. This bill limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for each of three years.”

What kinds of images are spread throughout the artwork?

The collection of 124 photographs from my hospital journey includes images of my hospital room, selfies with visiting friends and family, photos with nurses and health care professionals, snippets of the hospital lunch menus and personal health notes, art images from project ideas I recorded (and sometimes executed) while in hospital, images of pills and physio equipment, and even some cartoons from “get well soon” cards.

Are there any individual images that are particularly meaningful to you?

Each photo brings to mind a particular memory. One photo I love shows me posing with Nurse Liz who I wrote a letter of support (unsolicited) because I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated her care and extra effort while giving her something she might be able to actually use if applying for a promotion or a raise. She’s kind of nurse that would look for extra snippets of food for us and felt like a friend who happened to also be a nurse.

Can you tell us about the layering of the images?

I think there are layers to what we experience in the health care system; if you look beyond your own personal journey, you see that there are various dynamics and currents – under supported staff, hospital budgets, complex systems of regulation and compliance. With the translucent layering of images, that’s what I trying to convey – there’s my experience, but there’s so much more than is happening, both behind-the-scenes and with the other systemic issues at play.

How does this project fit in with your other work?

I’m always interested in creating art about relevant social issues. And in many of my participatory projects, I try to establish a sense of “multiplicity” – lots to look at, lots to consider, lots to think about. I’m lucky as an artist that I get to use my art to process what is happening in my life.

Do you consider yourself a photographer? A documentarian?

As an artist, I use the artistic tools at my disposal; in this case, a camera – mostly the one on my cell phone – to capture snapshots of my experiences. I’m more of a conceptual photographer in the sense that I’m more interested in the “idea behind the project” rather than the technical aspects of the photography craft (that I have a lot of respect for). There are many talented photographers who take better photographs than I do – my goal is use photography to serve the concept.

What would you tell the public about the care you received from nurses and other health care workers?

We should treat our heroes better. For all the gestures and words of praise we gave to nurses and health care workers during the early pandemic days, those actions are meaningless if we don’t tangibly support them with fair wages, proper benefits, safe and healthy working conditions. You can’t say “thank you” on one hand and then underfund the health care system with the other. I received tremendous care during my hospitalization from wonderful people who went above and beyond. That’s why wage-restraint legislation like Doug Ford’s Bill 124 was so frustrating to see.

Health care workers deserve a livelihood worthy of their hero status.