Very Special Arts exhibition “Urban Violence” in Washington DC • 1994
In 1994 I had my very first solo exhibition. That exhibition was entitled “Urban Violence – coming to suburb near you”. The exhibition was a social commentary on the state of the American culture of violence. The exhibition was inspired by the news of the day – America was in the grips of a spirited debate about how to handle the violence and unrest that was the norm in most urban areas in the country. This was a scant two years after the Rodney King police brutality and resultant riots in Los Angeles. In addition, America was yet to come to terms with the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the impact that this would have culturally on the country. These stories were the fodder of that news cycle after the close of the first Iraq war. The series of works started with one piece that I had hanging in my Flatiron district studio.
“The Best Drive-By of the Year 1993” / Mixed Media on 30×30 inches stretched canvas, 1993.
A group from Very Special Arts – an organization based in Washington DC, came for a tour of my studio in New York City and saw that piece. They requested that I create a series of these works to exhibit in the Capital as part of the lobbying effort to get the Federal Assault Weapons Ban passed. We worked in concert with VSA and Handgun Control Inc to promote the exhibition and to create some cultural momentum to aid in the passage of the law. The show opened in the Summer of 1994 in their Georgetown gallery and remained on exhibit through the summer of that year.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semiautomatic firearms it defined as assault weapons, as well as certain ammunition magazines it defined as “large capacity”. The ten year ban passed by Congress on September 13, 1994 following a close 52-48 vote in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban’s enactment and it expired on September 13, 2004 in accordance with its sunset provision. The law’s provisions provided a mix of minor successes – hiring 100,000 new police officers, introducing community policing – and failures – including increased incarceration that led to prison overcrowding, the elimination of higher education for the inmate population and 60 new death penalty offenses. It was not renewed after it expired or replaced with an amended new law.
I am sorry to say that almost nothing in American cultural landscape changed since that exhibition – the “debate” continues and the progress is minimal. America remains a violent nation.