Picture this: Bayer artist paints heart attack survivors into living murals to highlight hidden risks

Bayer enlists heart attack survivors to be painted into giant mural scenes to highlight the hidden risks of heart disease. (Jonathan Lopez)

Visitors to the Oculus at the World Trade Center in New York City this week got to see a live art installation with an artist painting real people into giant murals. What they may not have known is that the three people featured in those scenes are heart attack survivors.

Bayer hired artist Alexa Meade to paint the survivors into everyday scenes that blend the three-dimensional with the two-dimensional to create an optical illusion that “hides” the person. For Bayer, it was an ideal way to illustrate the hidden risks of heart attack as well as the hidden emotional side effects of cardiovascular disease.

“You don’t realize there’s a real person hiding in the painting. We really liked the idea of doing something disruptive like that to dramatize both that you don’t realize you’re at risk—and then also the emotional side that you’re often hidden in plain sight," said Jennifer Kaczmarek, director of communications for Bayer aspirin. "Your family is talking about you, but not to you, about what’s happening,”

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Bayer’s “Hidden Risk” campaign includes a website where visitors can try out an augmented reality app on Facebook or Instagram that paints one's face into a mural similar to Meade’s creations. For every selfie posted and tagged #YourHiddenRisk, Bayer will donate $1 to two advocacy and support groups: WomenHeart and MendedHeart.

The effort also includes social media and online video and will run through the month of February, which is American Heart Month.

In the U.S., aspirin is approved for secondary prevention after a person has had one heart attack. Aspirin can also be advised during a heart attack to prevent clotting and keep blood flowing. Bayer holds a majority share of U.S. aspirin sales.

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Kaczmarek said public relations agency Porter Novelli discovered Meade for the campaign. The artist was especially eager to partner on the project because, like many people, she has been touched by heart disease, through a friend who had a heart attack not long ago.

“It’s meant to educate about risk factors and take measures to avoid heart attacks in the future,” she said. “People don’t always know that there are modifiable risks like healthy eating and exercise, but also unmodifiable risks like family history.”