Each of the handguns pops with bright color, painted against plywood. Some are placed beside wooden panels of vibrant colors exhibiting a constellation through golden dots. Below the guns, in small handwriting, phrases are penciled in cursive. “This gun was used to kill our child,” it says. Or, “This gun was used to kill her cousin.” The works are inviting from a distance, like a refreshing splash of light. But up close, their innocuousness fades. Through the words, the guns reveal that however visually appealing they may appear from afar, they are ultimately bound in violence masked as something pretty. They’re “terror,” as the show’s statement describes, “commingled with allure.”
Local artist and printmaker Kadie Salfi has been busy. A strong advocate against gun violence, she’s spent the past eight years focused on the subject, producing five distinct bodies of work exploring multiple categories of violence, from trophy hunting to mass shootings in schools. She’s spoken at Cornell, exhibited at the Tompkins County Public Library, and distributed over 2,000 postcards of her gun imagery for individuals to disperse to their senators, mayors, the administration, and beyond. She’s organized to speak at Ithaca College in March, has work up at Corners Gallery now as part of the group show Transparent Memory, and will soon take part as one of 100 female artists in Fahrenheit 213, a collective activist art show taking place in San Francisco this spring. Meanwhile, Salfi has accomplished another feat. Every 16 Hours, her most recent work, is a series of gun imagery on display now at A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn. Up through March 10, it is her first solo exhibition in New York City.
According to Salfi, every 16 hours in the United States a woman is shot and killed by a former or current romantic partner.
“I had been interviewed by a magazine based out of New York and connected to NYU called OFNOTE Magazine, where I was highlighted as one of ten female artists making work about gun violence in America,” she notes. “Their emphasis was focused [on violence] against women and during the interview process I learned this statistic that every 16 hours a women is shot and killed. Because I had already been working on gun violence, I figured I have to make something about this subject as well.”
Painting handguns, the weapon most often utilized, Salfi chose to use makeup as her medium rather than traditional paints.
“I used blush and lipstick and eyeliner, nail polish and eye-shadow and lip gloss and painted the guns,” she says. “For me, the hope is that when people see and hear the title of the show—there are 16 guns in the show—and see the guns from a distance, they might actually think they’re very cool and beautiful and pop-y, because in some cases they really are. And then I write in pencil, pretty small, ‘This gun was used to kill your mom,’ so it’s this contrast in perspective: from a distance this thing looks blingy and cool, and when you’re close up and intimate with it, you’re struck with the idea that this gun was used to kill a woman. I hope the viewer will think about this and have a discussion—not necessarily with me, but with someone they’re seeing it with or with themselves or with someone else—that will continue this dialogue that needs to happen in the United States.”
Salfi’s juxtaposition of guns with constellations also carries its own significance and artistic intent. “I used those constellations for a work I made in 2013 and 2014,” she explains. “One day I had one of those constellation pieces that I was making. I was moving some of the gun pieces around and I had one of the guns next to one of the constellations just randomly and I started looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow, those look like bullet holes.’ [...] There are so many different cultures over time that have used the stars to tell stories to remember. So I thought this feels like a wonderful way, yet again, to honor this woman’s life. She’s been shot; now, there’s a constellation.”
Salfi said while the goal of the new display is to push an anti-gun violence message, it should also serve as a remembrance of the victims, in the same vein as previous work she has done about the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Salfi’s goal in creating and exhibiting this work, therefore, is bound in a dual purpose of honoring victims and continuing to spread and reassert awareness of this ongoing issue of violence. “
“I will say,” she says, “that someone has pointed out, and I thought about this too, that in most cases I’m probably preaching to the choir.” But even so, she continues, “Even if I’m preaching to the choir, there’s still a lot of work the choir needs to do.”