Artists continue their work memorializing every Philadelphia homicide victim of 2012

It’s up to three hundred and eleven.

That’s how many homicide victims there have been in Philadelphia this year as of Thursday, and that’s how many wire vessels the Mamacita art collective is making. One vessel for each victim.

Mamacita’s One Year art project is coming to an end, and the collective was hoping the victim count would not surpass 300. But as of last week, it did, and they’re finishing the year with free workshops in Cheltenham Center for the Arts, enlisting the help of art students, neighbors and other community members to finish a sculpted wire vessel that will represent each life.

The final installation will be exhibited at the Painted Bride in January.

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“It’s not a good year,” said Kim Mehler, one of the artists in the collective. “When I would sit home and make a vessel, it would be very meditative. I would say a prayer for this unnamed person. It doesn’t feel that way when you do something like this [workshop].

“Here, it spreads the word. It makes people go home and talk about this project they’re working on, and pay attention to the numbers and the news. … They start listening about the gun bill going through Harrisburg.”

Decent turnout last week

A mix of Cheltenham residents came out to the Tuesday night workshop.

Leslie Leff, a former inner-city school teacher, saw the workshop listed on the CCA’s email list and was immediately interested.

“I wanted to get back into art, and when I saw this, and knew it was a cause I really cared about, I wanted to come,” she said. “I know that gun violence touched my students’ lives every day. I remember having lunch with my students, and they were all talking about how their cousin or other family member had been shot, so matter-of-factly.”

Merav Nesvisky, an art teacher at Cheltenham High School, was also there Tuesday, along with four of her students.

One of them, Emily Rothstein, said she plans on making this her senior-year project, a community service effort that every senior needs to finish to graduate.

“I’m going to art school. I thought it would be relevant to what I’m going to do,” said Rothstein. “I thought it would be nice to contribute to a good cause.”

Lynette Lark, a freshman, brought both her mother and aunt to the workshop.

Lark has danced at the Painted Bride before, and hopes to go with her entire family to the exhibit in January. Lark’s aunt, also named Lynette, smiled shyly in a corner as she works on her vessel.

“I wake up every morning and hear about another murder on KYW,” she said as she twists her wire.

Art with a purpose

Karen Hunter McLaughlin, the most experienced in wire arts within the Mamacita collective, walked around the room throughout the night, giving people tips on how to bend and connect the varying lengths of wire.

Documenting each community workshop and the vessels they make on social media, she said she is excited about the new elements being incorporated into the Painted Bride exhibit, including music by Tim Nelson, who’s worked with award-winning filmmakers, the Quay Brothers.

The music will be mixed with the voices of mothers whose lives have been affected by homicide. Villanova University has also created a shortened version of the documentary they did on Mothers in Charge, the organization that Mamacita has been working with throughout the year, that will play in a loop in the front of the gallery.

By the end of the night, everyone had completed at least one wire vessel, each with a unique style and construction.

The Mamacita artists said they love how each vessel is as unique as the person it represents.

The middle table was filled with at least 30 new ones, waiting to be displayed next to the hundreds that are beautifully, but sadly, already made.

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