PILSEN — “When the trigger is pulled a life is taken and so many others are hurt by it.”
A Bowen High School art student carved those words onto a small black square of scratchboard next to a picture of a bullet.
On Friday, the tiny picture will hang in a Pilsen gallery alongside more than 200 other etchings of bullets carved by young artists who live on Chicago's violent Southeast Side.
The art show curated by South Chicago Art Center Executive Director Sarah Ward is part of a collaboration with the University of Dayton and artists from Newtown, Conn., called, "Bullet: Who Pulled The Trigger?" that will be displayed in Dayton later this month.
The idea for the show spawned from Ward's "343 Guns" art show, which included beautiful carvings, drawings and sculptures of Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistols — one for each Chicago Public School kid shot in 2012 — which got national attention.
Brian LaDuca, director of University of Dayton's ArtStreet program, asked Ward to collaborate on a project aimed at examining the effect gun violence has on American kids living in dangerous neighborhoods.
South Chicago is one of those places.
At Bowen, Ward asked students to use the image of a bullet — and a few words if they wanted — to express their feelings about the pervasive gang violence that surrounds them.
"Imagery allows you to get to the heart of a feeling a lot more than words. I wanted the kids to think about how this image, a bullet, affects people they love and might inspire people to realize what it's like to grow up where they live," she said. "Because these kids are survivors … and they need to speak their truth."
Ward asked the students what they hoped their drawings might tell people about Chicago. Many of them didn't have much to say.
"They were real shut down with this project," she said. "When you ask a kid, 'What does gun violence mean to you?' They don't say much. But when you look at these images and the words that are written on them like, 'Please don’t hurt me,' it’s powerful."
Ward hopes the images give voiceless kids a chance to capture the attention of folks who attend art gallery shows, but don't live in violent places or soak in the reality of so many news reports about all the shooting going on in Chicago and America.
"Being silent and looking at all the images of bullets, knowing that they symbolize people being killed, is a really powerful way to look at gun violence in America, and that's a really important issue," Ward said. "If no one shoves it down their throat, then are people really absorbing all the gratuitous news stories? I think people shut down with the news."
The bullet etchings will be on display at 2003 S. Halsted St. on Friday and Saturday, and again Oct. 16 for the South Chicago Art Center's annual fundraiser.
Then, Ward plans to take the artwork to University of Dayton and display it with installments by Ohio artist James Pate and artists from Newtown until Nov. 3.
She hopes people who see it really feel what growing up in violent parts of Chicago is like for good kids who make their way through her tiny art center.
"This is my kids' reality … and this kind of art is important for these kids because they're survivors and they need to speak their truth," she said. "And maybe I don't want to realize it — that I live in a violent neighborhood and I work in a violent neighborhood — and this is my truth, too."