The issue of gun control was at the forefront of American consciousness this summer after a string of violent tragedies, including the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Gun control—or the lack thereof—has long been salient subject matter for artists-cum-activists, who have harnessed art as a platform for anti-violence campaigns. Can an artist produce an iconic image or gesture in the fight against gun violence? We looked back at a few past projects, two in the United States and two in Mexico.
In 2011, Carrie Mae Weems began a six-month public art campaign across Syracuse, New York to speak out against the city’s gun violence. The project, a collaboration with the Social Studies 101 art collective, incorporated billboards, radio and TV public service announcements, matchboxes, and Facebook.
Chris Jordan’s series Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait illustrates significant statistics about our society through photographs, providing a somewhat disturbing insight into American culture. In 2007’s Handguns, Jordan displayed 29,569 guns—equal to the number of deaths caused by guns in the United States in 2000.
For Francis Alÿs’s 2000 video installation Reenactments, Alÿs bought a handgun in Mexico City and walked around the streets with gun in hand to see how long he would get away with blatant weapon possession (it was 11 minutes).
In 2008, Pedro Reyes organized a voluntary gun donation in Culiacán, Mexico, a city with a high rate of gun-related deaths. The project, called Palas Por Pistolas, culminated in the collection of 1,527 guns, which were then transformed into 1,527 shovels. These shovels will be used to plant 1,527 trees, including one at the Serpentine Gallery in London.