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June 30, 2023

Exhibit at Stockton University art gallery honors victims of gun violence with memorial portraits

The Souls Shot Portrait Project, on display from June 30 through Sept. 24 in Atlantic City, serves as a platform for grieving families

Arts & Culture Exhibits
Souls Shot Project Mark Melhorn/Stockton University

The Souls Shot Project, an art exhibit focusing on victims of gun violence, is on display at the Noyes Art Garage in Atlantic City through Sept. 24.

An art exhibition on display at a Stockton University gallery focuses on U.S. victims of gun violence through a series of portraits representing their lives and legacies. 

The Souls Shot Portrait Project, on display at the Noyes Arts Garage in Atlantic City through Sept. 24, is a collaboration between artists and families who have been impacted by gun violence. The portraits serve as a platform for those who are grieving, allowing people to memorialize loved ones while bringing attention to the impacts of gun violence on families and communities.

"To create these portraits, artists participating in this project were randomly paired with families and friends of victims," said Laura Madeleine, executive director and curator of the exhibit. "The artists meet with the families and friends and get to know who the person was in life through photographs, videos, mementos and the all-important stories. The artists then set out to illuminate the lives of these loved ones. The varied approaches and mediums used by the artists are a fitting testament to the unique qualities of each of the souls portrayed." 

The exhibition blends each participating artist's unique style into a single collective piece of art that organizers say forces viewers to confront what they have lost and take action in the fight for peace. The families of the portrait subjects have consented to allowing the art to be included in the exhibit through the summer and into the fall. 

The project hopes to promote respect for all of the lives impacted by gun violence, showcase art as a powerful force of advocacy and provide a diverse snapshot of what gun violence looks like, according to the project's mission statement

Souls Shot began in Philadelphia in 2016, focusing exclusively on victims of gun violence in the city. Over the last seven years, the exhibit has expanded, with as many as 51 artists collaborating to highlight victims in the region and throughout the country. 

Art Installation StocktonMark Melhorn/Stockton University

'No Longer By My Side. Forever In My Heart,' on the left, is a portrait of Santino Thomas by Yanlexis Arizanga. On the right, 'Nina: A Mother's Garden' is a portrait of Shirleen 'Nina' Marie Caban by Susan Stefanski.

There are now three separate exhibits that rotate venues in Philly, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Currently, the New Jersey exhibit is on display at Noyes Arts Garage; the Pennsylvania exhibit is at the Lancaster Museum of Art; and the Philly exhibit is tentatively planned to be at Parkway Central Library. Future locations are listed on Souls Shot's events calendar.

"The relevance of this exhibit is a commentary on where our society is today," said Michael Cagno, executive director of the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton University. "This helps to humanize the issue, and it's a good way to help have difficult conversations about gun control, gun violence and public safety." 

Just six months into 2023, more than 21,000 people have died from gun-related injuries in the United States. Doctors and public health officials describe gun violence as an epidemic due to year-after-year increases in deaths and injuries from guns, NPR reported. 

New Jersey, which has strict gun laws compared to many other places in the country, has one of the lowest rates of deaths involving guns. But despite having the second-toughest gun laws behind only California, New Jersey is not immune to mass shootings, including the two people killed and 12 wounded at a house party in Essex County in 2021, reported. 

Philly is in the midst of a deadly surge in gun violence in recent years, with 210 homicides so far in 2023 and 516 homicides in 2022. While the homicide rate remains 17% lower than it was last year, 21 children have been killed by guns this year, according to data from the City Controller's Office

"On behalf of all those who participated in creating this exhibition, we hope you will be moved by the images and will get to know the depth of these unique human beings; our kindred souls," Madeleine said.