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Sporting a “March for Our lives” T-shirt, Laura Miller, 19, quickly adjusts her slightly crooked three-panel art canvas into a straight row. “Is it OK?” she asked as she tilts her head.
“How many more of us have to DIE before you do something,” reads the painting of the U.S. Capitol with blood dripping down. Miller is just one of the several student artist who created paintings about gun violence in honor of the first anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Valentine’s Day Massacre. “I really hopes this makes other kids angry so that they can channel their anger and sadness into creative outlets that will help inspire other youth,” says Miller.
Miller’s painting is one of about 20 paintings currently on exhibit at The Center for Contemporary Political Art in D.C.’s Chinatown. Local teens submitted the paintings through the student organization known as “Moco 4 Change,” and then the team’s “Director of Artivism” selected works to exhibit. The main point of the collection is to educate people that gun violence is not just a political issue; it is an issue that affects all people.
“Yes, gun violence is something that people in Congress can debate over, but it is something that we fear on a daily basis,” says Hari Iyer, who is 17 and the director of artivism for Moco 4 Change. “A lot of the pieces symbolize gun violence in particular, but also a lot of them show student activism and how there is a rise in student activism since the Parkland shooting,” says Iyer.
The paintings on display include hand painted murals with the faces of Parkland students, gun sculptures, and a portrait displaying gun violence affecting transwomen of color. “What we are trying to do with the art is commemorate the people who died in Parkland obviously because that is most important,” says Iyer. “But also to emphasize that this is now a national movement and we are not going to stop fighting for our goals.”
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The paintings submitted by local students are a collection featured with “Walls of Demand,” an exhibition from artists Manny Oliver and Margi Weir. Oliver is the father of Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, one of 16 students who died last year. Oliver travels around the country creating murals to remember his son and to keep the message alive of ending gun violence. “I lost my son a year ago but my son has not lost his dad,” said Oliver to the crowd in attendance at the opening on Feb. 12. His voice trembled as he held back tears. “This is beyond schools, this is beyond Parkland, this is beyond Florida. This is a nationwide epidemic.” Oliver stood next to his wife, Patricia, and Joaquin’s girlfriend before his death, Tori Gonzalez, who his father said will still be his son’s valentine this year. “We will celebrate Valentine’s Day on Thursday OK and we’re going to celebrate it big,” said Oliver.
Along with parents and their children, political figures attended the opening of the exhibit. Jamie Raskin, U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th congressional district, Ted Deutch of Florida’s 22nd congressional district, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed their support, each speaking briefly. “I came because this is the wall that America needs to see,” said Raskin, pointing to the mural on display. “Manny and Patricia, I am with you. I’m going to stand with this new generation until we set America right,” said Raskin, who explained that last week on Capitol Hill, Congress held the first hearing on gun violence in eight years. Speakers at the hearing discussed the universal, criminal, and mental background check needed in order to carry a gun.
“The hearing was held, the bill was marked up, and I hope that it will be passed out of the House before the month is out,” said Pelosi as the crowd clapped and cheered. “What we have said is that we are not going away,” said Pelosi. “Understand this: Anybody who thinks they are going to block this, we are changing the ref,” Pelosi said, twirling her finger as she spoke of Oliver’s “Change the Ref,” a non-profit organization that empowers the youth to fight against gun control and serves as a platform for their voices to be heard in hopes of making change in our nation. “We are not going away,” said Pelosi. “You might as well save yourself a lot of time by accepting that fact.”
At the The Center for Contemporary Political Art to March 15. 916 G St. NW. Monday-Thursday, by Appointment; Friday-Sunday, Noon to 6 p.m. (703) 507-4053. politicsartus.org