Home Art & Culture A ‘sad kinship’ as towns build memorials to mass shooting victims

A ‘sad kinship’ as towns build memorials to mass shooting victims

by YAR

Sandra Mendoza chose a forest green panel to recall the SUV her husband, Juan Espinoza, a restorer and car enthusiast, proudly purchased before his life was taken.

Trenna Meins chose the phrase “Embrace the Possibilities” to carve on a bench because her husband of 36 years, Damian Meins, “was always up for anything.”

Shannon Johnson, a county health inspector who died protecting a co-worker, is memorialized in an alcove with her fiery last words: “I got you. Lord, have mercy.”

If design is a window into culture, perhaps nothing is more revealing than the Curtain of Courage Monument that opened last week in San Bernardino, California, a sculptural band of stamped bronze and steel intended to envelop Mendoza, Meins and Johnson, among others. the families who lost 14 loved ones killed in a mass shooting in 2015, in their sinuous communal embrace.

“We didn’t want a place of sadness, but of light,” said landscape artist and artist Walter Hood, who envisioned the solace of cathedral chapels in his first work commemorating people lost to gun violence and survivors.

The opening of the Curtain comes on the heels of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, Orange, California, Indianapolis, Ind., Oxford, Michigan, and a phalanx of permanent memorials in progress has been spawned by the deaths. These reflect “a part of the cultural landscape in which violence is overtaking the public realm, with lives being lost from city to city,” said Hood, a MacArthur fellow and professor in the University of California School of Environmental Design. Berkeley. In 2021 alone, there was an average of more than one active shooter attack per week, in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people.

The curving layers of chain in the new memorial are meant to evoke bulletproof vests. Near the employee entrance to the County Government Center, the $2.3 million job, paid for by the county, is the culmination of a community design process that began just months after the December 2, 2015, terrorist attack. which also left 21 injured when a radicalized couple with semi-automatic weapons stormed a meeting of San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services staff at Inland Regional Center.

Public and private at the same time, the monument is made up of 14 niches that represent the loss of each family, as well as the collective strength of the community. The spaces were customized to reflect the spirit of the dead, starting with the glass panels inserted in each niche that cast light and shadow in the manner of stained glass. An appropriate quote is inscribed on concrete benches, which also contain hidden mementos chosen by families.

Mendoza included an image of a miniature hot rod and a family photo taken from her husband’s wallet, encased in a resin cube.

Tina Meins, the daughter of Trenna and Damian Meins, recalled traveling to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and eating street food together in Vietnam. “If people go into the bedroom, they’ll know who my dad was and why he mattered,” Tina said.

The power of memory in the landscape has been a longstanding concern of Hood, from a vertical sculpture at Princeton University depicting the positives and negatives of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy to Hood’s landscape for the International African American Museum, now under construction in Charleston, South Carolina, reminiscent of enslaved Africans crammed into ships’ holds and trafficked and stored on site at Gadsden’s Wharf.

Designing for families affected by gun violence was “a pretty heavy burden,” Hood told the Dec. 2 Memorial Committee, which included survivors, emergency medical workers, and behavioral and public health experts. “He thought of every victim,” said Josie Gonzales, the committee chair and retired county supervisor.

It didn’t take long for Gonzales and his colleagues to realize that there were numerous communities to seek advice from. They traveled to Aurora, Colorado, for the unveiling of a sculpture of flying cranes honoring the 13 killed and 70 injured in the July 20, 2012 shooting at a movie theater. (Similarly, the president of the Aurora 7/20 Memorial Foundation attended last week’s ceremony in San Bernardino.)

“We know how others feel,” said Felisa Cardona, the county’s public information officer. “It’s a very sad relationship.”

The number of memorials across the country is “countless,” said Paul M. Farber, director and co-founder of Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit public art and history studio. “For every official memorial site that deals with gun violence,” he said, “there are unofficial sites, from t-shirts with names of gun violence victims posted outside churches to young people remembering their friends on Instagram.”

Local monuments can also say a lot. Brandon and Heather O’Neill, of Richardson, Texas, set up 19 maroon school bags on the front lawn, in rows resembling a class photo, with two larger packs to represent the teachers who lost their lives in the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The outpouring of flowers, wreaths and stuffed animals after mass tragedies is joined by artists who want to contribute. “You feel powerless,” said Abel Ortiz-Acosta, an artist and owner of Art Lab Gallery in Uvalde. With the nonprofit organization Mas Cultura in Austin, he is recruiting artists from across Texas to participate in “the 21 Mural project” to create portraits of the 19 children and 2 teachers massacred at Robb Elementary School last month.

Michael Murphy, founding director and CEO of MASS Design Group, was moved to address the issue of gun violence during the dedication of the National Monument for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Pamela Bosley and Annette Nance- Holt, two activist mothers from Chicago who had lost their children in random shootings and told Murphy there should be a memorial to their children. “I started asking myself the question, ‘What would it be like to commemorate an epidemic that we’re in the middle of?’” he said.

The result is the Gun Violence Memorial Project, now on view at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, along with “Justice Is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group.” Initially displayed in Chicago, the design, a partnership with artist Hank Willis Thomas and two gun violence prevention organizations, consists of four houses built from 700 glass bricks, each brick representing the average number of American lives lost to violence. armed in a given week. The project was inspired by the participatory nature of the AIDS quilt, in which each brick is a transparent repository of memories – hundreds contributed by families across the country.

“People want to give something of themselves to connect with someone who is lost,” Murphy said. “It’s a revealing human act.” The project seeks to generate a dialogue about a permanent national monument for the victims of armed violence.

The San Bernardino memorial has come to fruition, but in other traumatized communities the task continues. Nearly 10 years after 20 first graders and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, a $3.7 million memorial is nearing completion, including the ” sacred land” of the thousands of flowers, letters, signs and photos that were finally removed and burned. It has been a long and emotionally tense process. “People were upset about everything and anything,” said Daniel Krauss, chairman of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission.

Located in a forest clearing near the reconstructed primary school and surrounded by flowering dogwood trees, the design is intended to be “a walking meditation spiraling” around a central body of water, with the names of the victims carved into granite, said the landscape architect. Daniel Affleck of the SWA Group. The memorial will be opened first to families and then more widely on the 10th anniversary of the massacre.

The staggering list includes a third commemoration of the 23 people killed at the El Paso Walmart on August 3, 2019, this city-commissioned work by artist Albert (Tino) Ortega, and Architect Daniel Libeskind’s reimagining of the Tree of Life. Synagogue in Pittsburgh, incorporating a new sanctuary, memorial, museum, and anti-Semitism center beneath a “Path of Light” skylight that zigzags the length of the structure. The Vegas Strong Resilience Center, a trauma support network established after the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting that killed 58 people and injured at least 413, is collaborating with county and state officials on a monument in the place of the event.

“It’s weird to be part of a project that will be here on Earth when we’re not here anymore,” said Karessa Royce, 26, who was 22 when she suffered a critical gunshot wound and later underwent surgeries to remove shrapnel. of her throat and spine of her.

The most ambitious may be the onePULSE Foundation’s plans for a $45 million Pulse National Memorial and Museum on the site of the gay nightclub where 49 people were killed and 53 injured, the deadliest LGBTQ attack in US history. The design, by Coldefy & Associés, a firm based in Lille, France, is reminiscent of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia. It’s essentially a district, with a reflecting pond, garden and parabolic canopy around the site of the nightclub, which was designated a National Monument last year. The concept also encompasses a several-block-long “Survivor’s Walk” and a six-story museum. The plans have spawned a Coalition Against the Pulse Museum, which, among many issues, opposes “turning a mass shooting into a tourist attraction,” including “commemorative merchandise” currently for sale.

As Congress struggles to achieve bipartisan agreement on gun safety, these sobering monuments show no signs of abating. At Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, where a white supremacist gunned down nine black worshipers during a Bible study, architect Michael Arad, who describes its waterfalls and contemplative pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers on 9/ 11 Memorial as “absence made visible” – has been absorbed by a memorial to the “Emanuel Nine”.

But before ideas for courtyards, gardens or benches for the Fraternity shaped like angel wings were discussed, Arad, the American Israeli partner of Handel Architects, was asked about his understanding of forgiveness, an echo of the sentiment expressed by the church members who amazed and impressed the nation during the bail hearing of the shooter, Dylann Roof. (Roof was ultimately sentenced to death.)

The reconceived grounds will be a place to grieve, celebrate resilience and help others learn from the example of the families of those killed in the racist attack, offering the possibility of transformation. The Rev. Eric SC Manning, the church’s senior pastor, said, “I pray that regardless of where we were when we entered the space, we would be able to leave differently.”

In San Bernardino, Robert Velasco, who lost his 27-year-old daughter, Yvette, put it another way. “It was a very emotional moment,” he said of that December day. “Remains.”

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