George Mason University

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Exhibit aims to start gun violence conversation

March 29, 2017   /   by Jamie Rogers

James Van Meer stands in front of a large red number 90, meant to illustrate the number of gun deaths in the US each day

According to the exhibition, the "90" represents the average number of people in the US who die as a result of gun violence every day. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Blinking blue and red police lights. Scattered bullet casings. A black body bag.

All help to convey the powerful, solemn message of gun violence in America, the theme of the “Under the Gun” thesis exhibit of James Van Meer, a master of fine arts graphic design student and adjunct professor at George Mason University.

“You don’t have to do an exhibit, but I decided that’s what I wanted to do. This is the fruition of everything I’ve been working on for a year,” he said.

Throughout the exhibit, graphic art is used to bring statistics to life and encourage peaceful conversations about a particularly volatile subject.

In the center of the exhibit, above a body bag, is a large sign featuring the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” With it is a single gun statistic: “More Americans have been killed by guns since 1968 than in all of the U.S. wars since the American Revolution.”

“I felt, what better place to put my body bag than right there,” Van Meer said.

In a corner of the gallery is a list of all the mass shootings that happened in 2015—that list is eight feet long.

In another area, Van Meer has posted slightly distorted images of people slain by guns.

“It shows their lives have been interrupted. It’s glitched. Like what a television looks like when the reception doesn’t work,” he said.

Another section displays rows of 90 toe tags representing the average number of people who die every day as a result of gun violence. Each tag has the handwritten name of one person who died.

During his research, Van Meer said he was alarmed to discover how many deaths and injuries are caused by toddlers with guns. In 2015, more Americans were killed by toddlers with guns than by terrorists―an average of about one person a week.

Visitors to the exhibit can leave a message against a chain-link fence, much like the street memorials that often appear after shootings. Votive candles, religious items, flowers and stuffed toys also line the fence.

One of Van Meer’s students asked if he could circle one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” in a Bible placed in front of the fence.

“My whole goal is to get people thinking about this and starting the conversation up about it. The problem is, no one talks about it until something big happens. There has to be another Pulse Nightclub shooting for us to address it, and that shouldn’t be the case,” Van Meer said.

The exhibit continues through Friday, March 31, inside the Art and Design Building on the Fairfax Campus. Exhibits hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A student looks at graphics in the School of Art gallery.

MFA candidate Jim Van Meer's thesis exhibition, "Under the Gun," explores gun violence in America through graphic design. Photo by Evan Cantwell.