Built Of Bricks Made Of Memories, Glass Houses Honor Victims Of Gun Violence

Feb 2, 2020
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Every week, hundreds of people die by gun violence in the United States. An art exhibit honoring some of those victims will soon move to Washington, D.C., from Chicago. Creators of the Gun Violence Memorial Project hope it will raise awareness of what they consider an epidemic of violence in the country. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: At Chicago's Cultural Center, one of the first things visitors now see on the building's ornate ground floor is a cluster of four glass houses. Each has 700 glass brick openings, a stark physical reminder of the average number of people killed by guns each week in the country. Some bricks are empty. Others are labeled with the names, birthdays and dates people died. The spaces hold small pieces of who they were - a hairbrush, pieces of jewelry, a photograph.

PAM BOSLEY: Terrell loved to go to church, to have a church. He loved family, so it's a picture of us as a family.

CORLEY: Pam Bosley's face lights up as she talks about her son. Eighteen-year-old Terrell Bosley was a college student who played the bass in church bands. In 2006, he was gunned down in a church parking lot while he helped a friend unload drums from a car. Bosley wears pictures of her son on a pendant necklace and a bracelet. She says the diorama she built for his space shows how much he loved music.

BOSLEY: And it has drums, his driver's license. You know, that's in there. He was somebody that had dreams, hopes. And he wanted to be somebody. He would've been somebody if his life wasn't ended.

CORLEY: Bosley and another mother who lost her son to gunfire were the inspiration for the exhibit. The follow through came from the MASS Design Group and artist Hank Willis Thomas. Thomas says the houses are an artistic and unifying way to engage people in what's often a divisive issue. For him, it's also personal. He lost a cousin to gun violence in 2000.

HANK WILLIS THOMAS: And I recognize that there are memorials all over the country for heroes of wars and fallen soldiers. But there are no memorials for the tens of thousands of people who die every year in our country.

CORLEY: People memorialized in the exhibit are of different ages and races. Some died by domestic violence, some by suicide, others in random acts of street gun violence. Jha D. Williams with MASS Design Group says there is a reason why their artifacts are in houses.

JHA D WILLIAMS: When you understand how many households have guns in them, how many gun violence deaths, how many suicides take place in a household, etc., we wanted to be able to metaphorically bring in that information through the form of the houses.

CORLEY: Throughout the day, many people step inside those houses to take a look. Brendan Varilek (ph) is a recent University of Michigan architecture graduate.

BRENDAN VARILEK: Coming here and seeing, like, very, very personal items that are related to these victims kind of makes it seem closer to home to even strangers.

CORLEY: For 22-year-old security guard Terry Harris (ph), the exhibit makes him introspective.

TERRY HARRIS: I couldn't help but to think, what if I was in their shoes? What would my family pick for me? You know, what would symbolize me? It's so sensitive. It's so powerful.

CORLEY: The gun violence memorial closes in Chicago February 9. In April, it opens at Washington, D.C.'s National Building Museum. Designers say this is the first step in creating what they hope is a national and permanent memorial to gun violence victims. They want the country to see past statistics and to acknowledge the real lives claimed by gunfire.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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