Not many Las Vegas art exhibits include a graphic content warning. But this one does, alerting viewers to depictions and narratives of police violence and its aftermath.
“Some emotions may arise during the exhibit, such as fear, anger, frustration, pain. Let us allow us to feel these feelings, accept them and use these growing pains so that we can heal,” Micajah Daniels says in a brief video viewers are invited to watch before experiencing Water Slipping Through Our Fingers: An Art Memoriam to Lives Impacted by Police Violence.
Daniels is one of the many people who’ve helped bring Water Slipping Through Our Fingers to life. The heartbreaking exhibit is a tour de force of artistic collaboration: Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas, Desert Arts Action Coalition, Forced Trajectory Project (of which Daniels is a member) and the West Las Vegas Library came together to tell the stories of people affected by police violence.
On an individual level, Las Vegas artists collaborated with family members and survivors, using multimedia to capture these unfathomable personal tragedies. Sometimes, it was a direct pairing, like the acrylic portraits artist Sean C. Jones made of Nicholas Farah’s family and artist Robin Slonina made of victim Jorge Gomez. Sometimes, the art of victims is presented directly, as with the art of police homicide victim Rafael Olivas and police brutality survivor Cristina Paulos.
Other times, it’s a group collaboration: Artist and longtime political advocate Diane Bush collaborated with the families of 15 victims to make “Say My Name,” a banner inspired by Tibetan prayer flags. The flags are colorful and beautifully sewn. If you didn’t know the context, you might assume they were celebrating prize winners. But the reason is far more somber—each name is a victim of police violence.
“I love the idea of having some way to participate in the community, because I’m basically isolated here,” Bush said during February’s virtual panel discussion, which took place on Facebook Live (watch it on the Forced Trajectory Project Facebook page). “I didn’t feel it was safe for me to go on the marches that were happening. I [wanted] to contribute in some way; this gave me an outlet, so I was very happy to do it.”
Artist Kate St-Pierre collaborated with Jackie Lawrence Stolen to create a haunting installation. It depicts a New Year’s Eve party that victim Keith Childress Jr. never got to attend. Black and gold decorations, including black balloons, depict the overlapping feelings of joy and grief, of celebrating and mourning.
There are so many collaborators, so many names, so many stories, that absorbing it all can feel overwhelming. For that reason, the organizers invite viewers to take in the show in small chunks, rather than all at once.
“We believe strongly in the transformative role art can play in times like these,” FTP co-founder Nissa Tzun writes in a description of the exhibit. “Art has the ability to inform and invoke change. We hope that your time with us will invite you to stay engaged in the topic of policing and public safety in our community, so that we can see real systemic transformation in our lifetime.”
A photo by Tzun is one of the many powerful images in the exhibit. Her lens captures Trinita Farmer at her Las Vegas home with her two granddaughters. She poses with a framed portrait of her son Tashii Brown, who died from police violence on the Strip in 2017. The subjects stare into the camera, a casual family portrait revealing the love and loss they carry every day.
While this show might make you want to scream or cry or bow your head in sorrow, its ultimate message is one of hope and action. “We’re going to continue to build and create a brighter future, and we’re in it for the long haul, so that means not overwhelming ourselves with depictions of violence and manifesting toxic emotions,” Daniels says in a brief postshow video. “We need to take care of our mind, body, soul and community and create a plan to decompress. … We must continue to build and challenge ourselves to dream.”
Water Slipping Through Our Fingers Through March 30; Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; free. West Las Vegas Library Gallery, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 702-507-3980. Online version at forcedtrajectory.com/art-memoriam.