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The Museum of Contemporary Photography’s take on gun violence

In response to skyrocketing statistics of gun deaths and injuries, the “American Epidemic: Guns in the United States” exhibition encourages attendees to slow down and see the devastating effects of gun violence through images hung on blank, white walls. 

The exhibition — which first opened in September of this year and will run until Feb. 20, 2022— is housed at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, located on the Columbia College Chicago campus.

At the beginning of the exhibit there are photographs of everything from a college library to a young boy holding a basketball. Scattered throughout the exhibit are pieces that show personal stories from those affected by gun violence and those still clinging onto gun rights.

Catherine Ramos, 23, from Chicago, recently attended the exhibit said what moved her the most was a piece done by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, a Cuban American, who created a piece of artwork that consisted of huge sheets of paper, filled with the images of people who died from firearms in a one-week period in 1998. According to Ramos, putting faces to the issue really made it all the more powerful.

Karen Irvine, the chief curator and deputy director of the museum, said that she and her team have a justice mission to amplify the work of artists in order to communicate issues in a way that the mainstream media doesn’t.

Catherine’s sister was moved by the exhibit as well. “It’s not what it’s about in a literal sense but what does it makes you feel,” said Caroline Ramos, 21, a student at North Park University who was referencing a piece done by Zora Murff. 

Murff’s piece of work included two photographs side-by-side. One is of a man named Walter Scott running away from police officer Michael Slager before he was killed, which is one of many pieces Murff created in response to the many cases of police brutality surfacing in the country.

Although the museum primarily takes the position of being pro-gun control, Irvine thought it was also important to showcase perspectives beyond that. 

In the gallery on the second floor, there are portraits done by Nancy Floyd. Located right below the staircase is a photograph of a woman holding a gun proudly against her chest, which is one of many from Floyd’s project called “She’s Got a Gun (1993-2008).”

“A lot of the experts on the topic say that unless both sides kind of understand the other side we won’t really get anywhere,” Irvine said. “So, Nancy Floyd’s work on the mezzanine was actually included for that reason because I realized that most of the artists in the show are very much activists, then by default, you know, pro-gun control.”

Caroline Ramos said that the exhibit really contextualized gun violence in a way that makes you see the real effects of it.

And many people feel it has. According to Irvine the exhibition provokes a lot of important conversations and has a somberness effect on those who have attended. 

“That’s a part of the reason to do the show right is to bring some of those facts to the surface in a different venue, in a different context and really implore our viewers to think about it, discuss it, hopefully and maybe even if we’re lucky, sparks action by somebody,” Irvine said.

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