An exhibit of 17 photos, most taken by custodial workers, is on display in the hallway of UW’s Art Building. Called (in)Visibility, the exhibit was curated by Evalynn Fae Taganna Romano (MSW ‘20, MPH ’21), and will remain on display through Dec. 10.
The project was a natural for Romano, a social worker and public health researcher who lives in Seattle. Her late father was a UW custodian for 25 years and her mother has been a UW custodian for 33 years–much of it spent cleaning the very building where the photo exhibit is staged.
The photos for (in)Visibility were taken during September and October 2020 by 16 custodians. In short statements that accompany the images, they share their stories and concerns about the health impacts of their workplaces, neighborhoods and homes. Some 250 custodians work at the UW, showing up and performing their duties daily in spite of the pandemic.
One photo in the show called “My Yellow Shield” depicts a cart full of cleaning supplies. The image resonates strongly with Romano who knows from her parents that the supplies on each custodian’s cart are arranged according to personal preferences. The caption reads in part: “To avoid from having COVID. This yellow shield will represent who you are.” Other photos show a hanging paper mask, empty bus seats, and entertaining friends, among other topics.
Romano has been a staunch advocate for personal protective equipment, hazard pay and other protections for custodial workers. “I saw a lot of social media around awareness and acknowledgement of healthcare workers and bringing food to them,” she said. “But I didn’t see that same action towards custodians and I was pretty heartbroken that my mom still had to work during the pandemic.”
Before the idea of the photo exhibit surfaced, Romano started an outreach project on campus in which students and faculty were asked for donations, thank-you notes and letters of appreciation for custodial workers. With the funds, she purchased bread, coffee supplies and gift cards for the essential workers.
Support for (in)Visibility was provided by the Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Fund for the Arts, and will be on display through December 10. To learn more about supporting the work of UW custodians, visit their Instagram page.
Revealing the (in)visible: UW graduate shares the stories of custodial workers through rotating exhibit—UW Daily, Nov. 30, 2021
Custodian photo exhibit hopes to help public value essential workers—South Seattle Emerald, Oct. 24, 2021