Trying to make sense of a year in which three of her relatives were killed by handguns, Marlene Foote-White composed a public statement about the deaths of her niece, 6-year-old Tiffany Smith; her grandchild's mother, 18-year-old Shawneek Gunter; and her cousin, 26-year-old Darrin Roderick Johnson-El:
"In the Arbutus Memorial Park Cemetery Lies Three (3) Of My Family Members Whose Lives Were Taken Because Of
Tiffany was killed by a stray bullet as she played near her home. Darrin was shot five times, for unknown reasons, on his way home. Shawneek was shot by a neighbor who said he thought she was a burglar.
Accompanying Ms. Foote-White's statement, a plain sheet of paper bears photographs of the three smiling victims. Although Ms. Foote-White is not an artist, her powerful work is part of an unusual exhibition at the BAUhouse arts center about the effects of gun violence. And it stands as a reminder that the most devastating art is often the most simple.
Opening tonight, "Collateral Damage: The Unseen Cost of Gun Violence" is a "work in progress" which invites public expressions from artists and non-artists through a process known as mail art.
All submissions are mailed in, and everything received is displayed.
"I said to myself, 'This may be the one opportunity to express myself on the deaths in the family,' " says Ms. Foote-White, who works as supervisor of the clerical staff at the state's office of parole and probation on Mount Royal Avenue.
"I thought I'd do something in remembrance of them, to let them know that we care and that someone is trying to do something about what happened to them. I needed something to release my anger. . . . And I wanted other people to know that they're not suffering alone."
Baltimore artist Mary Ann Crowe organized this show as a public art project open to all who wanted to register their reactions on the subject of gun violence. After advertising the show in various art and general readership publications, she received more than 110 entries, a third of them from overseas. The BAUhouse arts center, a 2-year-old showcase for emerging artists in various disciplines,agreed to sponsor the show.
Combining the work of unskilled and professional artists, "Collateral Damage" is an unpredictable trip through territory which is sometimes cerebral, sometimes crude, always surprising. It travels from the philosophical to the acutely personal with a stunning variety of paintings, poems, collages, songs and outraged miscellany. (The only requirements for entry were that the works be two-dimensional material no bigger than 11 inches by 17 inches.)
The art works are mounted on long black sheets of poster paper. Ms. Crowe describes the show as a conceptual album quilt; it seems pieced together with anger, pain and harsh memories.
There is a drawing by 6-year-old Adrian Bronson of Arlington, Va., entitled "Whoever Shot That Man?"
"Drive By" is a postcard painted to resemble a piece of blood-stained asphalt sent by R. H. Waldrip of Breaux Bridge, La.
Minneapolis artist Joan Stavely composed a desperate scrawl concerning her relative, Bridget Phillips, who was murdered in Baltimore.
"Mr. or Mrs. Murderer, You are probably still in Baltimore. Have you killed anyone else since March 23, 1989? Did she die quickly? Did you know her? . . . Her grave was so bare and lonely last time I looked. I wish you were there instead of her. I wish you were held responsible but no one can find you. You must be very experienced at killing or had absolutely no reason for the murder. Only you know. I saw her mother's face last week. Those eyes preoccupied withthe memory of her daughter's voice, old arguments, things unresolved. . . . Why did you do it? Was she so lovely, so hideous or so unimportant to kill?"
After her own work on the subject was displayed at Artscape last year, Ms. Crowe decided to organize a mail art show to enable others to express how their lives had been changed by gun violence.
If statistics from Handgun Control Inc., are any indication, more and more people are falling victim to gun violence. Last year, according to the organization, 12,090 Americans were murdered with handguns, an increase of 14 percent over 1990.
Mail-art exhibitions are increasingly recognized as a way of summoning all members of a community to consider and comment upon areas of social concern. One recent mail-art exhibition organized by the Contemporary, an art museum which programs exhibitions in temporary spaces, asked contributors to express the far-ranging effects of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The work consists of disposable art which is unjuried and not returned. An organizer pledges to show all the work entered and usually compiles a catalog which documents the show and includes participants' addresses to send to exhibitors.