Salem Library exhibit stacks origami boxes honoring victims of gun violence


An Oregon artist’s origami project aimed at humanizing victims of gun violence is on display at the Salem Public Library through Aug. 19.

The Salem Public Library invited people to participate in a group folding of origami boxes for The Soul Box project exhibit on Friday, July 22, 2022. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

After 61 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Leslie Lee started looking at the numbers.

As a lifelong artist, Lee felt that the statistics and impacts of gun violence are impossible to understand without a visual, a visual that stacks and humanizes the victims.

Lee, who is based in Portland, created a website and began calling online for people to fold small paper origami boxes together, decorate them to honor those killed or injured by gunfire and send.

Last October, she took 200,000 of them from Portland to the National Mall in Washington DC for an exhibition. Now they are also on display in Salem.

Until August 19, visitors to the Salem Public Library will find origami boxes en masse on the first floor, as part of the effort now called The Soul Box Project.

The display has been in place since July 19, with 2,304 boxes that have been sent out representing the approximate number of men, women and children slaughtered in Oregon in 2021 and 2022, many of whom are identified by name, said Sonja Somerville, senior librarian for teen services.

Stacks of boxes honoring those killed or injured by gunfire line a wall on the first floor of the Salem Public Library on Friday, July 22, 2022. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

In 2019, 566 people in Oregon were killed by a firearm, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority. Of these, 82% were suicides and 14% homicides.

The exhibit is meant to hit people like a wake-up call, Lee said, “so people can walk away and say, ‘You know what, maybe I really don’t want to have a loaded gun. in my bedside drawer, or maybe I should take a safety course, or maybe I should talk to my kids about anger management… I can reach out to a friend who seems really desperate .

Last Friday, the library invited people to participate in a box-folding group for the exhibit. About 20 minutes later, eight people of all different ages were gathered around a table, silently and carefully crafting them.

Somerville said more folding events will be scheduled based on volunteer availability.

The boxes are easy to make for anyone 7 or older, Lee said. A video on the project site explains folding step by step.

“The first time you do it, it might take you 15 minutes. After you do a few, you can probably do one out of seven,” she said.

Lee said the idea came after being appalled not only by the Las Vegas shooting, but by her own initial reaction of wanting to turn away from the massacre. “I realized that there had to be a way for people to approach this very, very sensitive and very painful issue in a way that they felt like they could do something about it,” he said. she declared.

Written on the boxes are messages emitting everything from anger to hope for love.

“Not One More”

“We can all work for gun sanity”

“Together, we can end the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.”

“Be careful. Close your weapons!

“Are you going to answer the call?”

“It’s fascinating when you look at the billboards, there are names but there are also these posts that were made by people who care about this issue,” she said. “So it’s not just a representation of how many people have been killed or injured, it’s also a representation of how many people care enough to make these little monuments.”

An online exhibit on the project’s website features more than 36,000 of the nearly 200,000 boxes people have made across the country.

Somerville said a Salem resident reached out after seeing The Soul Box Project elsewhere and asked for the exhibit to be taken to the library. “We were responding to that community interest,” she said.

The Soul Box Project exhibition will be held at the Salem Public Library until August 19, 2022 (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

Lee said she hopes to get as many Soul Box exhibits across the country as possible — small or large, including people renting display boards like the library has and making their own displays. One of the first attempts at his project came in 2018 when a procession brought bags of soul boxes through the Oregon State Capitol and piled them in the lobby.

“They need to be seen. They, they need to be there, because that’s when they influence,” she said. “You can tell people facts and figures, but that’s not where decisions are made. Decisions are made when you reach people on an emotional level, which is what this art does.

Lee said she doesn’t personally know anyone who has been killed or injured by a gun, and was surprised at how much of an impact folding has had on those seeking to honor loved ones they have. lost.

She recalled a Portland father whose son took his own life saying that it wasn’t until he went through the steps of folding a soul box that he was able to finally disconnect from grief that he felt.

“Not long term obviously, but he got a break where he was using his hands and learning something new, and with a very clear goal in mind. And he said it was so beautiful,” he said. she declared.

Contact journalist Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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