A new exhibition opening at the Dairy Arts Center on Friday will challenge viewers to look at one of the nation’s—and Colorado’s—most painful hot button issues in a new way.

Honolulu-based artist Deborah Nehmad’s What’s Wrong With Our Country is a collection of data-driven, multimedia works that use repetitive imagery to drive home the human cost of gun violence in the United States.

Using data from various sources—including numbers from the Gun Violence Archive, a mass shootings log, and a child deaths report by Mother Jones—Nehmad creates striking visualizations of the reach of gun violence. For instance, in the exhibition’s title work, “What’s Wrong With Our Country,” the artist hand-stitched 60 QR codes that each allow viewers to access via smartphone the story of a child aged 10 or younger who killed themselves or another child with a gun in the 12 months following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012.

In another piece, “Old Glory?” (pictured at top of page), Nehmad created a macabre American flag, in which she hand-stitched roughly 22,000 black Xs to indicate the average number of suicides by gun that took place each year in the United States between 2014 and 2016. In place of the flag’s 50 stars, Nehmad printed digital scans of targets that she painted and then burned holes in—each singe representing a death or injury by mass shootings in that state over a 34-year period. Colorado’s is punctured 139 times. Thirty-five of those are stitched over, indicating a fatal shooting.

“I want to make people think,” Nehmad says. “Because it’s hitting people aesthetically, they can literally see it. You can see that there are more black stripes than red stripes [in “Old Glory?”]. It’s just another way the information gets registered in the psyche.”

Also opening at the Dairy on Friday are exhibitions by Chicago artist Yuge Zhou, who combines relief sculptures with video and sound collages that place viewers in chaotic, yet somehow dreamily intimate urban spaces, and by Connecticut artist Marlene Siff, whose paintings in Elements of Peace use color and white space to explore emotion and personal experience as they pertain to survivors of war. If the heaviness of all the data and discussion have you overwhelmed, Parker says Siff’s work lends an opportunity to pause and reflect, but make no mistake, these exhibitions are no artful oasis from politics.

“What [all three artists] had specifically addressed was their desire to put out work that can take a moment to reflect and discuss,” says Dairy curator Jessica Kooiman Parker. “With Deborah’s work there are these terrible things that happen and with Yuge’s work it’s more like, OK well, here’s who we are as a society in our everyday lives, which is also kind of playing into Deborah’s work. Are we just going to keep doing our own thing and not talking about this?”

All three artists plan to attend the opening reception Friday night at the Dairy Arts Center. Afterward, the Dairy will host a panel discussion on gun violence, as well as a screening of the documentary Newtown about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. The panel will be moderated by gun control activist Jillian Waters, and will feature Nehmad; Boulder police officer David Kaufman; and Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado and former Colorado Speaker of the House.

If you go: The opening reception takes place on Friday, August 24 from 5-7 p.m. The panel on gun violence will be held at 6:30 p.m., followed by screening of the documentary film Newtown at 7:30 p.m. The exhibitions are open to the public August 24 to October 7. Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St, Boulder. Admission to exhibition spaces is free.

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.