Souls Celebrated: Art Against Gun Violence
By Kristyn Komarnicki
Another day, another mass shooting in America. While I numbly struggle once again with the senselessness of the latest tragedy and the hopelessness I feel in the face of a gun lobby that is willing to “send thoughts and prayers” to victims but not put forward any meaningful gun control laws, I am grateful for—and hanging on for dear life to—how and with whom I spent last Friday evening.Partnering with the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based movement to prevent gun violence, sponsored the creation and showing of works of art dedicated to victims of gun violence. The “Souls Shot” project paired artists with families or friends of victims in an effort to turn statistics back into the very real flesh-and-blood faces, names, and stories of individuals lost to gun violence. It also commissioned a choral work by Pulitzer-winning composer Lewis Spratlan and hosted a reading of 26 Pebbles, a new play based on the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that stole the lives of 20 elementary school children and six teachers.
My friend Meri Adelman depicted one of the 21 victims honored in the “Souls Shot” exhibition. Meri sat with Darryl Singleton’s mother and father, pored over photos of their late son, and, while commissioned to do only a single portrait, produced a dozen. Listen to her talk about the experience in this short video.
The church’s hall was filled with artists, community activists, neighbors, art lovers and—most importantly—families whose beloveds have been sacrificed to a violent culture that cares more about individual rights than about individual lives. And we celebrated those souls, together. (Hover over each soul below to view his name and the name of the artist who painted him.)
In the wake of yet another massacre, even as we mourn and rage, even as we sign more petitions and make more phone calls to our legislators, even as we struggle wearily in the face of what looks like an unmovable mountain, let us, also, celebrate. Let us celebrate all the individual lives, lives that were torn from their family’s arms so suddenly, so harshly, so senselessly. Let’s celebrate life—all that is living—while the death culture stomps and storms on all around us. That is exactly what a handful of people who are precious to me did last week, on Halloween. Just hours after a terrorist ran down pedestrians in Lower Manhattan, my brother and sister-in-law, whose children attend the elementary school a few blocks from where the massacre took place, stepped back out onto those very streets. Costumed as a Sad Mets Fan and Cruella deVil, they led their 4-year-old Paw Patrol Chase and 8-year-old Harry Potter into the streets to trick-or-treat, joining the swell of other families who thanked the NYPD officers there and connected with their neighbors and, in a strange but beautiful way, shook their fists in the face of evil.
As we continue to fight for sane gun laws, as we pray for peace amidst the ongoing pain, let us remember to celebrate, embrace and look full into the face of life, every day, and to cling to the One who is Life itself, against all odds.
Kristyn Komarnicki is director of dialogue and convening at ESA/Sider Center. The creator of our Oriented to Love dialogues about sexual/gender diversity in the church, Kristyn facilitates these two-day, intimate retreats that help Christians of different sexual/gender orientations and theological convictions come together to get to know, understand, and love each other, unified by the love of Christ.
Related reading: “David & Goliath” by Drick Boyd