So far this year, there have been 6 shootings on school campuses in the United States*, resulting in 20 deaths and over 50 injuries. We are only in the third month of 2018 and history has already been made. Knowing that people died or were injured because of another person's problems and access to guns is senseless. Students should not fear going to school, but rather, they should look forward to learning how to thrive in this world.
Emma González speaks for the masses when she protests against the current gun laws that are in place. She took a risk when she decided to speak up against the National Rifle Association (NRA), and her speech went viral as hashtags began and celebrities reposted. Emma is more than a survivor today - she is a hero. Moved by this act of courage, Brooklyn artist, Danielle Mastrion, painted a mural in New York City of Emma González, a young woman whose bravery resonated with her.
Emma Levine: What inspired you to choose Emma González's eyes as your subject matter?
Danielle Mastrion: I wanted to paint an inspirational woman for Women's History Month, as I was starting the mural on March 1st. I spent days thinking about who I wanted to commemorate, and suddenly I was hearing Emma's speeches, reading her tweets, and saw that photo of her looking directly into the camera. Strong, defiant, intelligent - everything I wanted the mural to embody. I didn't want to paint a straight-on portrait, but rather wanted the strength from the eyes to represent the bigger #whatif movement and the power all these young people have. I wanted the viewer to be drawn in and unable to look away, so I focused on her eyes.
EL: What message are you trying to convey to your audience and what impact do you hope it will have as a result of seeing these eyes on a daily basis?
DM: I wanted to convey strength, energy, power, resistance, determination. I hope that the mural will bring more attention and education to the #whatif movement, as well as the anti-gun violence and social justice message behind it. I also hope the mural serves as a call-to-action for the upcoming "March For Our Lives" march on March 24th.
EL: What role do you think art can play in this movement?
DM: In this case, I believe art can be used as a tool to educate people on the movement. You see the hashtag, you look it up, and suddenly hundreds of messages by the students and young people across the country pop up. The mural is also located directly as you come up the subway stairs, so there is no way to NOT see the hashtag and learn about the message.
For me, as a high school student, reading all of these articles and hearing about how many school shootings there have been is scary. I go to a small school where everybody knows everyone so personally. I feel safe, but knowing that I may still be in danger when people can get guns so easily is frightening. I have found myself saying “goodbye” and “I love you” more often than before these recent shootings.
Emma said “Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see. Since the time of the Founding Fathers and since they added the Second Amendment to the Constitution, our guns have developed at a rate that leaves me dizzy. The guns have changed but our laws have not.”
Although I have not been in a situation like Emma, I do feel like I can connect. I have heard of threats to “shoot up the school” and while we do have lockdown drills, I still do not feel safe. I have nightmares about being in the same situation which makes me physically sick. Emma pointed out the facts and those words were heard all over the world; inspiring is an understatement. As a result, awareness has heightened and the number of advocates has increased. As more people stand up for our schools, the better chance we have of surviving and striving.
Emma said, “So we are speaking up for those who don’t have anyone listening to them, for those who can’t talk about it just yet, and for those who will never speak again.” Not only does Danielle's art represent this, but it represents the change that we hope for. Her use of art as a “tool” is educating society on the reality of the situation and the weight students voices are in the #whatif movement. The placement of the mural is also important as nobody could pass by without seeing it; the beautiful colors and emotional meaning captures the attention of every passersby.
Emma’s speech taught me that together we are very powerful and by speaking up and spreading the love, we are contributing to the cause. Danielle's mural is helping to bring awareness to the changes that need to be made in our country. Her art inspires others, including me, to do what we can to be informed and act in a positive way.