Shock And Art: #UNLOAD Exhibit Takes On America’s Gun Violence Epidemic

Jun 28, 2018

A new art exhibit prompts you to look down the barrel of a gun. The exhibit at the Fairfield University Walsh Gallery is called #UNLOAD: Guns in the Hands of Artists. It features works built from decommissioned street guns.

When you walk into the exhibit, you’re immediately confronted with guns showcased on the gallery walls.

“It’s a subject most museums would be a little hesitant to tackle,” said Carey Weber, the exhibition’s curator. She said it was started in 1996 by a New Orleans gallery owner named Jonathan Ferrara. Ferrara’s idea was to get local artists to respond to the highest murder rate New Orleans had ever seen. It quickly gained national media attention and for years, traveled to different art galleries across the country.

“And in 2012, Jonathan Ferrara felt like nothing much had changed, and Sandy Hook had just happened and he felt he needed to revisit this experience of starting a conversation through guns,” said Weber.

Ferrara then worked with the city of New Orleans to distribute guns to artists around the nation, explained Weber.  

“Through their gun buyback program he was able to get guns from the city and distribute them to a much more national group of artists, a renowned group of artists,” said Weber.

And their works are now on display at the Fairfield University Walsh Gallery.

One of the most shocking works in the gallery is a piece by Adam Mysock called “Looking Down the Barrel of A Gun (Last Judgement).”

“It causes you to literally look down the barrel of a gun to see it, which is such a disturbing thing to do, to find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun, it goes against every instinct in your body, you don’t want to do that, but when you look down the barrel of the gun, he’s placed these miniature paintings so that when you look down the three barrels, you see Heaven, Hell, and Bambi’s mother,” said Weber.  

"Of Guns and Drums" by Ted Riederer
Credit Courtesy of the Walsh Gallery of the Fairfield University Art Museum

Weber showed a piece by Ted Riederer called “Of Guns and Drums.” Weber beat the drum, which produced a sound reminiscent of a gunshot.

“It’s an actual drum, as I just hit it, the drum mallets are made from the ends of rifles, and then on one side, it says ‘Of Guns and Drums’ and then on the other side is an image very reminiscent of the images from the ‘60s where you had protesters putting flowers into the ends of guns. Here, instead you’ve got drum mallets going into the ends of guns, so, it’s a protest statement,” said Weber.

Mary Himes and Helen Klisser During worked to bring this exhibition to Connecticut with their arts-based organization, #UNLOAD. Himes' husband is Congressman Jim Himes, who has advocated for the passage of gun control legislation in Washington.

“We’ve done very well on the state level but on the federal level, you know, there’s been no progress made in terms of passing sensible gun laws, and I just got increasingly frustrated and decided that, you know, we needed a new approach, a new way to address the epidemic of gun violence. And so I thought, well, why not use the arts? The arts have a long history of educating people, of shocking people, of bringing people together,” said Himes.

Helen Klisser During hopes that the work will not only shock, but inspire. She pointed to a piece by the New York-based artist Paul Villinski, which juxtaposes a decommissioned rifle against metal butterflies.

“There can be transformation, even with Paul Villinski’s work, the work of, on the far right wall, with a series of bullets and butterflies, that are made from transformed cans, metal, of butterflies, which is transformation from the bullet, that metal to another metal. There is hope. And that’s a recent work from 2018. I think it’s important to know that we’re not helpless. And together, we can make change,” said Klisser During.  

Some of the artists are victims of gun violence and others are gun owners themselves.

The co-founders of #UNLOAD hope that this exhibit forces people to confront the disturbing nature of America’s gun violence epidemic, no matter where you stand in the gun control debate.

The exhibit as seen during an installation preview in May.
Credit Courtesy of the Walsh Gallery of the Fairfield University Art Museum

#UNLOAD: Guns in the Hands of Artists runs through October 13, 2018, in Fairfield University’s Walsh Gallery.