Joseph Stalin is quoted as once saying, "A single death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic." Here in America, more than 30,000 people, including over 18,000 children and teenagers, are killed by gun violence each year, which makes gun deaths feel very much like statistics. But an art exhibit in Chicago called "The Unforgotten" is seeking to remind people that these victims are each individual people — not just numbers. And their deaths truly are tragedies.
The exhibit, which is being put on by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, creates life sized statues posed and dressed to represent individual victims of gun violence in Chicago. The artists who created the sculptures extensively studied photographs and video of the people they aimed to represent to make them as life-like and as true to form as possible. Some even wear the victims' real clothes. From a distance, they look real — except for one detail: None of them have faces.
"The overriding idea behind this came from the fact that the media spends so much time talking about stats and then you always hear about the shooter, but not much time is ever spent on the victims," the program manager for ICHV, Dion McGill, told Mic. This project, then, brings those victims back into focus, with painstaking attention to detail.
"We tried to find their essence with the poses, how they would stand … to almost bring them back to life to tell their own story," the project's lead artist, Jordan Sparrow, said.
The project went on display at St. James Cathedral plaza last week, giving family members a chance to see it for the first time. Bonita Foster, whose 15-year-old daughter Porshe was killed two years ago, told Red Eye Chicago that at first the exhibit was off-putting, but that the potential power of the image grew on her. "I think it's a really good way of presenting my daughter, who walked this earth and had purpose," Foster said. "… It does (convey) the message that my daughter was once here and she is no longer here."
Chicago police Cmdr. Ron Holt, whose son Blair Holt died while shielding friends at a bus stop from bullets, also found the exhibit very moving. "I'm looking at all the images and I said, 'OK, that's Blair.' … It is a reminder of who Blair was as a teenager and as a young man and how he carried himself. He was a young man of promise and hope."
The exhibit also includes a statue representing Hadiya Pendleton, the young student who was shot and killed just a week after performing with her high school band at President Obama's reelection party in Chicago.
It's easy to get lost in the numbers when it comes to gun violence. After all, the United States has an absurdly high rate of gun violence, especially when it comes to mass shootings; by some estimates, there is a mass shooting nearly every single day in America. And yet increased gun control seems to be pipe dream. Chicago, which has one of the highest homicide rates of any major city, has repeatedly tried to implement their own regulations, only to be stymied.
So how do we fix this? Maybe by reminding people that those 30,000 deaths aren't statistics. They are individual tragedies. 30,000 individual tragedies. And they deserve better.
Images: Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence/Facebook (3)