#UNLOAD: Guns in the Hands of Artists
If you offer guns to artists, what would they do with them?
The answer is, create art that comments on the perpetual escalation of gun culture in the U.S.
#UNLOAD is an art-based initiative that aims to reduce the amount of gun violence in the U.S. With so many men, women, and children being killed or wounded by firearms, frequent mass shootings, rising suicide rates, and children with access to unsecured weapons, #UNLOAD turns to the arts to open dialogue about gun culture.
Mary Himes and Helen Klisser During, co-founders of #UNLOAD, brought the #UNLOAD exhibit to Connecticut because of the state’s long and complex history with guns. Connecticut has been the hub of weapons and ammunition production; with an addition of many firearm manufacturing companies. Connecticut is also where the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School of 20 first graders took place. So, #UNLOAD plans to develop a reliable blueprint for action in Connecticut that can be exported to other states.
A large number of artists in the exhibit, #UNLOAD: Guns in the Hands of Artists, have their own personal experience with firearms, Himes states. “Forty percent of the artists are gun owners and 40 percent have been impacted by gun violence. We want to foster inclusive conversation among owners, safety advocates, Republicans, Democrats, independents, students, adults. We need to broaden the conversation to include people we really haven’t been talking to. A gun-safety advocate, talking to other gun-safety advocates, doesn’t get us anywhere.”
In the exhibit, artists use brought-back guns and work them into a variety of media, such as drawings, photographs, found-object installations, and sculptures, to comment on gun violence.
Jonathan Ferrara was one of the artists that was featured at the exhibit. Ferrara inserted a rifle into a stone, a la King Arthur, and called her art piece “Excalibur No More.” The working material he used was not a decommissioned gun, but a firearm he brought himself, and he confesses that owning it was exciting. Ferrara writes: “Before inserting the shotgun into the rock, I knew I had to go shoot the shotgun, otherwise it would not be an authentic experience. I started shooting and I must say it was a total rush … adrenaline flowing, heart pumping, sweat rolling down my face. The sheer power of the gun scared me and excited something within me at the same time.”
Excalibur No More
However, tragedy is the overriding theme of the pieces at the exhibit. The most terrifying pieces connect gun culture with children. John Schuerman’s installation depicts a teddy bear at a child’s table and above the table is a drawing of the house. He relates a story that happened in that house. Schuerman writes: “My neighbor’s 5-year-old son found a loaded handgun in the laundry basket and shot himself dead. His mother’s screams were the loudest things I’ve ever heard come from a human.”
Another exhibit, #Unload: Pick Up the Pieces, is a community-driven exhibition at Ely Center Contemporary Art that explores issues concerning gun control laws and the impact of guns on society. The artists come from diverse backgrounds aiming to raise questions regarding violence, safety, equality, gender, the influence of media on violence, and mental health stigmas. Overall, the exhibition artworks reflects our culture’s divided attitudes towards gun control, gun reform, gun safety, the constitutional right to bear arms, and also the current events relating to gun use, ownership, safety, and violence. Below are some pieces from the exhibition:
#UNLOAD’s mission is to encourage more Americans to join the effort to reduce gun violence through art. Art has the power to drive inclusive conversations that will empower people to speak up, particularly those who have been on the sidelines: physicians, students, responsible gun owners, and veterans. #UNLOAD believes that there is a strong national consensus about how to reduce gun violence.
As co-founder and executive director, Mary Himes says, “Our hope is that by bringing the conversation into the realm of the arts, we are providing a welcoming space, less for judgement than for listening, questioning, and understanding. This all-embracing dialogue will help grow the community of people who will demand common sense solutions to gun violence.”