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Disarmed: Guns in the Hands of Artists at Jonathan Ferrera Gallery

Published in ArtPulse Magazine

Fall, 2014

New Orleans, LA has a tragic reputation. In 2011, New Orleans had the highest murder rate per capita in the U.S. and it is the only city in the U.S. with the dishonorable distinction of having had the nation’s highest murder rate twelve times since 1985.[1] As of September this year, there have been 101 murders in the city, a number that is on pace to exceed last year’s total of 156 killings.[2] A sense of loss can overcome one when you consider how much must radically change to avert this catastrophic course. Jonathan Ferrera Gallery addresses this endemic issue through Guns in the Hands of Artists, a group exhibit that opened October 4th, 2014.

For this exhibit Jonathan Ferrera Gallery distributed disabled guns to thirty-three artists to create a range of art works, from monoprints to animation to sculpture. Artists commissioned for this exhibition include: Neil Alexander, Katrina Andry, Luis Cruz Azaceta, John Barnes, Ron Bechet, Brian Borrello, Mel Chin, Andrei Codrescu, Club S+S, Michel De Broin, R. Luke Dubois, George Dureau, Margaret Evangeline, Skyler Fein, Jonathan Ferrera, Rico Gatson, MK Guth, Generic Art Solutions, Heathcliffe Hailey, Marcus Kenney, Deborah Luster, Bradley McCallum, Adam Mysock, Ted Reiderer, Peter Sarkisian, Dan Tague, Robert C. Tannen, Nicholas Varney, William Villalongo, Sidonie Villere, and Paul Villinski. While the works were all made from a common material, each piece addresses a different dialogue within the very loud conversation on gun control. Many of the works highlight specific killings; others address violence in more personal manner; together the works are a ringing indictment of the state of violence in our country.

Generic Art Solutions pays homage to the violent history of New Orleans with their series of silkscreens, One Hot Month (2014). The artists used the obituary photos from the deceased victims of gun violence in August 2002, a month when there was nearly one homicide per day. These photos become silkscreens that merge obit photo and handgun, create a masking effect, as if one is looking though smoke at the victims. Seen all together, the twenty-seven images recall a very dark version of Andy Warhol’s screenprints, but this time the pop reference is a murder victim and a handgun. Another work that addresses gun violence specific to New Orleans is by Ron Bechet. Why! (Is It Easier to Get a Gun than an Education, A Gun instead of Help?) (2014) is a meticulously made work that places pins along with the names and ages of each person who has been murdered in New Orleans in 2014. The text covers the entire map and is written in an aggressive red. Bechet’s encyclopedic remembrance depicts the reality that New Orleans has one of highest per capita murder rates in the United States. This map of bodies continues to grow.

Both Katrina Andry and John Barnes address the racial implications of gun violence. John Barnes’ Marigny Warning (2014) is made of wood, shotgun barrels and children’s toy letters. The work depicts a home in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans where a young African American male was shot in July 2013 for trespassing on the property. Barns depiction of the shotgun barrels within the architectural form is a reflection on power dynamics and conflict of those with over those without. The work includes text written in children’s toy letters, “Get Off My Property,” ”Turn Down the Music” and “We Are Here Now”. Each of these saying illuminate how stand your ground laws make a home a fortress. Katrina Andry’s monoprint Disappear (2014) explores the effect of gun violence on the African-American community. Through violence or the prison system, Andry’s work suggests that the disappearance of African-American males has become normalized. Victims become suspicious of their own deaths. Or as Andry states, “Who cares if they disappear?”

Forms of Correspondence, I. (Yes, No, Goodbye) (2014) by 2013 Guggenheim winner Deb Luster is one of the most poetic works in the show, addressing the lasting communications between the living and those that have passed. A cypress table is painted with numbers, letters and yes, no, good-bye in each corner. The planchette, or heart-shaped finder is chained to the board, rendering the communication tool somewhat mute. How many nights have been spent whispering to a lost loved one? Luster says: “This Talking Board is a chained oracle, an illusion machine, a desperate promise… It is a machine of self-fulfilling prophecy.” Andrei Codrescu, NPR Correspondent and writer contributes another poetic work, A Southern American Story, (2014) a text about a carpenter who shoots himself in the rear while building a bookshelf made for tomes on artillery. Codrescu seems to imply that the impenetrable repository of knowledge is remote from the reality of shooting yourself in the ass.

Speaking of shooting yourself in the ass, the Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal recently signed a law that will allow people in Louisiana with concealed handgun permits to carry their weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol. If Guns in the Hands of Artists creates a dialogue about the state of gun violence in Louisiana, then I hope state lawmakers hear it clearly. I admire Jonathan Ferrera Gallery for addressing one of the city’s most profound issues. Not only is Ferrera creating public discussion but also addressing the problem in a more direct sense by donating funds back to the Orleans Parish Gun Buyback Program. Maybe next year Jonathan Ferrera Gallery should consider taking on Gun Laws in the Hands of Artists.

[1] Desilver, Drew. “Despite recent shootings, Chicago nowhere near U.S. ‘murder capital’ “Pew Research Center. Web. Accessed 11/2/14. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/14/despite-recent-shootings-chicago-nowhere-near-u-s-murder-capital/

[2] Lawton, Dan. “Five weekend homicides push city’s murder rate above 2013’s” The New Orleans Advocate. Accessed 11/2/14. http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/home/10156212-123/five-weekend-homicides-push-citys

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