By Barbara Sherf
Every day it seems we hear of lives lost to gun violence. The statistics mount, and we build up immunity to the headlines and broadcast reports. But the folks who organized the 2017 Festival of Music and Arts held recently at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill (PCCH) decided a year ago to tell some of the stories of the lives of the victims of gun violence in the art exhibition “Souls Shot: Portraits of Victims of Gun Violence.”
The opening on Nov. 3 included a reception featuring State Sen. Art Haywood and The Healing Presence Singers. The exhibition will be on view until the end of November.
Twenty-two artists were paired with families and friends of victims in Philadelphia to help tell their stories that the artists then produced. The 24 portraits illuminate the lives lost and encourage the viewer to focus beyond the statistics and see the individuals and the human cost of gun violence. A catalogue of the portraits is on sale to raise money and awareness about the issue.
Wyndmoor artist Laura Madeleine, who co-curated the exhibit with Rebecca Thornburgh, is one of the artists who have lived with the images of Sharif Williams for months, having communicated with his family and captured his story in a portrait.
“I do batik on silk. All of the portraits are very different with a wide range of styles. Some of the artists had a connection to a (victimized) family. However, about 20 of the artists were matched with families, many of whom have become quite close,” said Madeleine, who was affiliated for many years with the Rosenfeld Gallery in Old City before it closed. A 1976 graduate of Ohio University College of Fine Arts, Madeleine has been a working artist and instructor since then. This was perhaps one of her most difficult and fulfilling pieces of art.
“It was excruciating because I really wanted it to be right and wanted the family to like it. I met with them for several hours and went back and forth with many questions until I felt I could get to work. I have lived with Sharif’s photos in my studio for months, and I kind of feel like I have met him now.
“The whole process was very moving and difficult. As an artist it was cathartic and moving and a very small action. But I felt like I’d done something good. There are so many things in this world that need attention. You can’t do it all, but I feel like I made this one little memorial right.”
Madeleine said Williams’ mother cried when she saw the portrait. Sharif was described as a happy-go-lucky guy who loved his dogs, his Corvette and his two daughters and son. Some of that imagery is depicted in the piece.
Working with a group called Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence, Madeleine said there are discussions with other venues to move the exhibit and give it a second life.
“It looks like this exhibit will be on view at other venues and possibly become a traveling exhibition. I think it would be wonderful to have it exposed to a larger audience,” Madeleine added.
PCCH is located at 8855 Germantown Avenue next to Chestnut Hill Hospital. Gallery Hours are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m.
When not writing stories, Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf enjoys storytelling through oral history. She will appear in the annual Tellabration Storytelling session on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2 p.m., at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Chestnut Hill.