Art is disruptive. It can fracture entrenched positions. It can restart conversations.
This fall, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis is presenting “Guns in the Hands of Artists.” Organized by the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans, the exhibition examines the role of guns in American culture through the work of more than two dozen internationally known artists.
For Ferrara, the aim is not “to take a pro- or anti-gun stance,” but rather “to use the gallery as a forum for the exchange of ideas.” Removing the conversation from the realm of political ideology creates space for genuinely individual reactions such as “What do I think about this, and what am I moved to do?”
The exhibition comes amidst Washington University’s yearlong initiative “Gun Violence: A Public Health Crisis.” It also comes amidst an uptick in St. Louis gun crimes. So far in 2015, the area has seen 150 gun murders, up from a total of 138 last year.
Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts, first saw the show in New Orleans with his wife, Susan Colangelo. They made an immediate connection to the university initiative.
“We were taken by the depth and the quality of this exhibition,” Colangelo said. “We thought it would be really interesting to bring it to St. Louis, and that the Des Lee was the perfect venue. ‘Guns in the Hands of Artists’ is a great platform for conversation.”
Since opening Sept. 16, the exhibit has been seen by groups of artists, physicians and local teens, as well as individual gallery-goers. Members of the collective St. Louis Story Stitchers, which frequently engages the issue of gun violence, debuted two new songs — written and recorded under the direction of K.P. Dennis at the Stitchers Storefront Studio — as part of a related panel discussion.
“Story Stitchers teens and artists live in areas of the city where sirens can literally be heard day and night,” said Susan Colangelo, who directs the group. “Most have experienced the loss of family and friends to gun violence all too recently. Being physically surrounded by art literally made from guns brings home this pain in a new way while simultaneously providing a disquieting sense of relief that St. Louis is not alone in this experience.
“We are emboldened to work more diligently drawing on the strength of the artists from New Orleans,” she said. “We all hope that the new songs can save lives. We know from history, from the photographs, videos and songs of the Civil Rights era that art and music has the power to do just that.”
“Guns in the Hands of Artists” remains on view through Saturday, Nov. 21. Regular hours are 1-6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The Des Lee Gallery is located downtown at 1627 Washington Ave. For more information, call 314-621-8735, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit desleegallery.com.