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Violence Transformed: Guns to Shovels Exhibit Comes to Lincoln Center Campus


Violence Transformed: Guns to Shovels Exhibit
Comes to Lincoln Center Campus

Members of Professor Jo Anna Isaak’s class, with shovels at the ready.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

By Tom Stoelker

When it comes to handgun murders, some American cities rank among the most dangerous in the world.

But gun violence is also ubiquitous in Culiacán, a city in western Mexico with the highest rate of handgun deaths in that country. There, artist Pedro Reyes created an exhibition that called on locals to turn in their firearms to have them recycled into shovels. Some 1,527 shovels made from the guns were then used to plant trees in violence-plagued neighborhoods.

The show, Palas por Pistolas (Shovels for Guns), has since traveled to many violence-plagued cities and will arrive at the Ildiko Butler Gallery at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on March 11. The gallery will host an opening reception on March 25.

Gregory Waldrop, S.J., assistant professor of visual art and director of the University art collections, said the exhibition serves as a stark reminder to students that, in many New York neighborhoods, gun violence remains a huge problem.

From an art history perspective, Reyes’ work owes a bit to Andy Warhol’s factory in that he doesn’t make the art himself, said Jo Anna Isaak, Ph.D., the John L. Marion Chair in art history. Yet unlike other Warholian “art manufacturers,” he uses art as an agent for social and psychological transformation.

“You could hardly find someone who is less interested in personal fame or wealth,” said Father Waldrop, who is teaching course in ethics and art that includes Reyes’ work. “The ethical dimension of the show is clear, but it’s made even more so within the realm of contemporary art where people are more interested in the market and the jet set aspect.”

The exhibition’s trees will be planted on Earth Day, April 22, at a venue still to be determined.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Two of Isaak’s classes are working on the exhibition as well, making this a particularly pedagogical event. For her Museum Methods and Materials class, students will get hands-on experience with planning and executing an exhibition. Her Art and Ecology class will focus on the environmental components of the work, such as the gun recycling and the tree planting.

“The work really shows how an agent of death can become an agent of life,” said Isaak.

For Father Waldrop, who took on the inaugural role of director a little over a year ago, Shovels for Guns represents the kind of collaborative exhibition he hopes University art collections will continue to nurture in the future. The Stein Center for Law and Ethics is also a partner.

“The collections and exhibitions should have a connection to the institutional mission, which is two-pronged,” he said. “First, it should be about the students growing intellectually, but also, as a Jesuit institution, we have a foundational connection to justice.” Read more about the exhibit at


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