Trenton Artworks is hosting two exhibits this month to honor those victims lost to gun violence in Trenton and abroad.
The two shows are the Souls Shot Portrait Project and the Potential Project, both focused on using different mediums to create a show that talks about the person lost rather than the act of violence against them. These two shows came together almost by fate.
When first entering artworks, the first thing a visitor sees is The Potential Project, created by Trenton Multimedia artist and activist Bentrice Jusu. She debuted her work virtually before, but this is the first time it is hanging on the walls of Artworks.
“It was definitely serendipitous,” Addison Vincent, artistic director at Artworks, explained. “Bentrice’s show was in the works, and since we weren’t having Art All Night this year, I asked her: is your Potential Project coming to fruition? Do you want an exhibition with the pieces before they hit the public? And she was like, absolutely. Then, no sooner after, she said yes to that. Moms Demand Action reached out to me and said: there’s this traveling show called Souls Shot,” Vincent said.
“I think people know me as a teacher and a firefighter, as a poet, but this is the first time they see this work; it’s super terrifying,” Jusu said.
Through different mediums like photography, visual arts, and digital media, Jusu creates a walk-through of Trenton residents lives that were affected by violence with the hopes of kickstarting the conversation about gun violence in Trenton and beyond.
“It was a traveling story,” She gestures to each of the portraits. “You’ll see his story, and his story, and their story and their story.”
Through augmented reality (AR) multimedia collages, each painting depicts a person in Trenton resident who was a victim of violence. This includes Jusu herself, as a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub Mass Shooting in 2016, where 49 people were killed and more than 53 wounded at the LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. Three months later, she would lose one of her students, Jahday Twisdale, to gun violence.
“The actual imagery that starts to show is the days after Pulse. Just like, bro, had I not made it out. None of this artwork would have existed, or nobody would have known that I can do this. Nobody would have known that (Twisdale) was in my class. And that article written about him, they would have just thought that he was a gangbanger, but I knew him as this sweet, amazing, talented, brilliant artist.” Jusu said.
She would turn that pain into art, commandeering the yellow square as her signal and creating the potential project. The yellow square illustrates the potential by scanning each portrait with the Artivive app. The portraits are a reminder of the potential of those lost, a memorial for those that were left behind, and a calling for those that can make a difference.
Trenton residents like Donte McClease expressed how the exhibits shine a light on a topic that only comes up after tragedy. “Oh, man, it is just beautiful. Just seeing all these pictures; it’s also heartbreaking; a lot of young people lost due to gun violence,” McClease said.
Halfway through the exhibit, the Potential Project is combined with the Souls Shot Portrait Project. Visitors walk through the hallway and are shown different portraits in various styles. Laura Madeleine, the executive director of the Souls Shot Portrait Project, explains that these were people whose lives were lost to gun violence.
“It’s a project where we randomly pair fine artists with family members or friends of victims of gun violence, and the artists meet with the family or friend and get to know who the person was in life,” Madeleine said.
The hope is that the exhibition will invite communities to take action and end gun violence. Part of the guest that showed up on the opening night was Charlene Mokos Hoverter from Ocean Township, NJ. She lost her sister Diane Hoverter after being shot in front of the church she frequented.
“Although it was many years ago, and it always seems like yesterday, and that just brings it more to heart,” Hoverter said. She explained that it didn’t get easier for her. “The last exhibit was held in Longbranch at Monmouth University, and my niece, her first daughter, fell apart…The thing is, when someone is taken by gun violence, the pain never goes away.”
Although these exhibits were planned before the newest wave of gun violence in America, they continue to keep the conversation open about gun violence in Trenton and America as a whole.
“Well, unfortunately, world events are starting to feed into what these two shows are about, so I guess it’s poignant,” Vincent said. “The timing of these two exhibitions…the mass shootings that have taken place over the last three weeks…Congress to start moving. They are trying to do something about it. So it is a hot topic right now, in a not so pleasant way, but the timing was perfect for these two shows.”
To learn more about these projects, go to https://www.potentialproject.art/, https://www.soulsshotportraitproject.org/. The last day to view these two exhibitions will be Saturday, July 16. A discussion will be held at noon on the same day as the closing.