It’s said that every rose has a thorn, but at East End Cooperative Ministry, purple roses have stones. A new exhibit pairing the shooting of Antwon Rose II and the attack at the Tree of Life building features photographs, paintings and statements reflecting the period following the two 2018 events.
Collectively, the exhibition’s materials demonstrate communal value, explained curator Julie Mallis, of Repair the World Pittsburgh: “The show is about how people have come together in response to violence.”
“It highlights community actions in the last year and a half done with a lot of communities coming together in solidarity to support one another,” echoed Zack Block, Repair the World Pittsburgh’s executive director.
The exhibit largely consists of photographs, paintings and explanatory words set against the Ministry’s white painted walls. Many of the images taken by Pittsburgh photographer Brian Cohen showcase local activists and members of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh at protests and public gatherings.
“Brian Cohen is an amazing photographer, and Repair the World has been a huge fan of his work for years,” said Mallis. “We knew that we wanted to feature Brian Cohen’s work to give context.”
Mallis sifted through nearly 400 images before settling on approximately 15, including one photo of 11 yahrzeit candles encircling a pile of stones (placing stones on a Jewish grave is a traditional act of remembrance). Other photos detail the creation and placement of purple roses.
Purple was Rose’s favorite color and the flower choice was an obvious nod to his surname. So in the aftermath of his killing on June 19, 2018, by an East Pittsburgh police officer, Bend the Arc began recruiting people to construct and hang purple felt roses, explained Sara Stock Mayo, of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh.
The public art project meant to demonstrate “solidarity and love,” she said. “The beautiful and symbolic” actions were reminiscent of crafts collected and displayed throughout Squirrel Hill following the October 27, 2018, attack at the Tree of Life building.
“There has been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support for the Jewish community in both word and deed. Volunteers participating in the purple rose project want other communities to have that same experience of being seen,” said Yael Silk, of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh, in a statement.
“I know for us in Squirrel Hill, part of what made me feel so incredibly overwhelmed with love and support was how other communities showed up for us,” said Stock Mayo. “I think what’s hard in these situations is you never know what to do for other people, especially when a community is hurting so deeply. We wanted to reach out in some kind of loving way, and walking around Squirrel Hill gives me a sense of hope, and I think for other people to give back in that way felt significant.”
Interspersed with Cohen’s photographs (and occasionally included within the images) are paintings from artist DS Kinsel, co-founder of BOOM Concepts, featuring the names of cities, including Pittsburgh, Poway, Charlottesville and others that have experienced gun violence in recent years. Other works from Kinsel include painted phrases or statements including “Detention Centers” and “President Trump, You Refuse to Build a Country Where We All Belong But We Will.”
Several of Kinsel’s paintings were “used by the Jewish community and Bend the Arc around their street action one year after the attack at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue,” notes an explanatory panel at the exhibition. Like Kinsel and Cohen’s works, the exhibition’s materials “share black, Jewish and intersectional solidarity across identity, coming together through ritual, art-making, collective grieving and organized action.”
Complementing the exhibit’s aims are displayed works from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s upcoming comic series.
“‘CHUTZ-POW Volume 4’ tells stories of women in the Holocaust, incorporating topics of gender and sexuality as well as Muslim rescuers,” explained Lauren Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center. “This volume celebrates women whose experiences resonate now, connecting the past to the present. For that reason, Julie Mallis and I saw a direct link with the ‘Stones and Roses’ exhibit. We are thrilled that visitors to the exhibit have a preview of the art by Marcel Walker.”
Collaboration with Repair the World stems from the Center’s desire to leverage shared interests, continued Bairnsfather: “As the Holocaust Center increases outreach to educate about the dangers of anti-Semitism and related destructive ideologies, especially as Pittsburgh struggles to address inequality, we see the important role that Repair the World plays in building solidarity across communities.”
“Stones and Roses” runs through April 21, 2020, and is presented in partnership with Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh, BOOM Concepts, Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives, Heinz History Center, The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, 1Hood Media and the East End Cooperative Ministry.
Mallis hopes interested parties, including students, will make time to visit.
“The show is about how people have come together in response to violence,” added Mallis. “It’s not a focus on violence, but on how people have reacted in real time.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.