Art tolls for gun victims


When Marisa Gonzales Silverstein read that an average of 92 Americans are killed as a result of gun violence each day, she decided to create an artistic reminder of the death toll. 

“So often we put our attention to these mass shootings and you think about it for days,” she said, “And [then] it starts to kind of fade from our day-to-day thinking, so I just wanted to bring awareness that every day this is happening in our country.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33,636 people died as a result of firearm discharge in the United States in 2013. That means about 92 people each day, but roughly two-thirds of that year’s firearm deaths—or 21,175—were suicides, according to the CDC. The numbers showed only a marginal decline the next year. 

In October of 2015—right after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon—Silverstein started a daily art project called “92 Americans. Every Day.” For 200 days, at home or on vacation, she would cut 92 triangles on black paper with a cutting board and arrange them in a design that best fit how she was feeling that day. 

“Having to do a daily practice is challenging,” she said. “I’d never done it before. I didn’t know if I could do it.” 

Now, 196 of the 200 designs line one wall at the Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection at The Hebrew Home at Riverdale. The exhibition opened on Jan. 22 and runs through March 5. 

Silverstein’s alluring abstract designs are what you make of them. Some look like 3-dimensional objects coming towards the viewer, while others are flat and represent captivating spirals, fans or flowers. 

As an artist, Silverstein says her technique has improved immensely, but as an artist with a statement, she wants to make sure her viewers have a general idea of what they are looking at.  

“At some point I kind of realized that I actually wanted to show the tally marks in numbers to make sure that people realized [the images were made up of] 92 [triangles],” she said.

By the time she finished the project in April of 2016, people had been following her daily on Facebook and Instagram as she had been posting images of her work. Online viewers offered interpretations of what they saw—and requests to keep designing for a full year.

“I just wasn’t sure that I could do that,” she said. “Part of my point here is honoring all the victims of this gun violence. At this point, I felt like it might need to wind up because I wanted to make sure that I was happy with every piece that I created, so I started to wind it down.”  

Susan Chevlowe, the museum’s chief curator and director, said she discovered Silverstein’s work after Joy Solomon, the Hebrew Home’s director of the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, saw the exhibition at the Hastings-on-Hudson library. She said she felt the art would align with the organization’s beliefs. 

“To have an exhibition that draws attention to a social issue, a social problem, that needs some kind of response are things that we do already,” she said. “And art is an essential part of what we do here. For me as a curator, everything comes together. This is art that looks at a very big social problem [and] fits into our relationship to us as an organization within our little community here and ties us to the larger community.”

In preparation for this exhibit, Silverstein has also teamed up with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nonprofit organization she takes part in. When it comes to potential backlash from gun supporters on the message she’s trying to get across, Silverstein is OK with it. 

“I did this kind of knowing there might be some backlash to it and I just wasn’t going to concern myself with that,” she said. “If it happened, it happened.” 

Looking ahead to what might happen with gun violence trends during the Trump administration, Silverstein is not sure. 

“I’m very concerned with what could happen with this new administration, and I really worry that in two years [we’ll] look back at the number 92 and be like, ‘Wow that was a little number,’” she said. “I worry about that. But time will tell.” 

But Chevlowe sees Silverstein’s as a call to action and awareness. The museum is planning to host school groups and organizations to take part in a discussion and interactive project, inviting visitors to ruffle through a container of 36,000 triangles that symbolize gun violence survivors and to feel the scope of the issue. 

“This is beauty in response to something that’s very ugly,” she said. “To me the beauty part of it is the hope and optimism built into the project.” 

According to the CDC, homicides accounted for 11,208, or about one-third, of the 33,636 firearm deaths in 2013. Another 505 people were killed by accidental or negligent discharges of guns, yet another 281 by discharge of firearms with “undetermined intent,” and 467 more people died of firearm wounds as a result of “legal intervention” or “war,” according to the CDC. In 2014, firearms accounted for 33,599 deaths in the United States, including 21,334 suicides and 10,945 homicides, according to the CDC.