As the murder rate in New Orleans spiked during the 1990s, artist Brian Borrello had an idea: Inspired by a little boy who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting, he sought guns confiscated by police in hopes of taking objects that had been used destructively and transforming them into constructive objects for the community.
Over time, scores of artists were invited to attempt works in that vein.
“We take something very base and crude, work our magic, and put them back out in the world in a kind of alchemy,” Borrello explained Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
The first Guns in the Hands of Artists exhibit occurred in 1996, in collaboration with gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara, who has recently labored to reboot the exhibit in hopes of bringing it to cities all over the United States. “It’s my goal to use art and the creative process to facilitate new, frank dialogue about gun violence … without the often polarized politics that surround the issue,” he said in a statement.
Artists and audience members have shaped its evolution. Ferrara recalls an encounter with a skeptical police officer who pointed out that an exhibit in what he called a “white” gallery wasn’t going to reach kids in the most violent New Orleans neighborhoods, like the ones depicted in the work below (discussed by the artist here).
In response, a new component was added to Guns in the Hands of Artists: Panel conversations were held with young men who had direct experiences of gun violence.