According to the nonprofit research group, Gun Violence Archive, almost 40,000 Americans are killed by gun violence each year, a tragedy exacerbated by recent economic issues related to Covid-19. Staged within the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, The Gun Violence Memorial Project was conceived by American conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas and Mass Design Group in partnership with gun violence prevention organisations Purpose Over Pain and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

Free to the public, the poignant installation comprises four white houses, each constructed with 700 transparent glass bricks, a tribute to each person killed by guns each week in the US. The houses are already home to hundreds of personal artefacts, including photographs, baby shoes, graduation tassels and jewellery.

Installation view of the Gun Violence Memorial Project at the National Building Museum
Installation view of the Gun Violence Memorial Project at the National Building Museum by Hank Willis Thomas

Over time, cavities will be filled with deeply personal objects of remembrance donated by the families of victims. Using the design as a prototype, the ambition for the project is a permanent national memorial that pays tribute the lives of those killed by guns. 

‘My family felt the effects of gun violence first hand when my cousin was murdered during a robbery in 2000,’ says Thomas, who is also artistic director of Songha & Company, a conceptual public art practice named after the artist’s cousin, Songha Thomas Willis. ‘My life, and by extension my artistic practice, has been influenced ever since.’ 

The exhibition will also display excerpts from Comes the Light, a forthcoming documentary film exploring the effects of gun violence created by Haroula Rose and Caryn Capotosto.

Installation view of the Gun Violence Memorial Project at the National Building Museum by Hank Willis Thomas

The Gun Violence Memorial Project will be on view physically and online until September 2022 and is presented in conjunction with ‘Justice is Beauty: The Work of Mass Design Group’, a timely new show surveying the work of the socially conscious nonprofit architecture firm. 

‘As the recent tragic shootings in Colorado and Georgia sadly underscore, gun violence isn’t an abstract concept, but an epidemic that strikes every American community,’ said Brent D Glass, interim executive director of the National Building Museum. §

Installation view of the Gun Violence Memorial Project at the National Building Museum by Hank Willis Thomas