Portland nonprofit uses art to illustrate gun violence impact

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A southwest Portland nonprofit is turning to art to illustrate the toll gun violence is inflicting on America.

It’s called Soul Box, a project started in the wake of the Las Vegas strip shooting massacre in October of 2017. It was founded by a woman in southwest Portland who used art in an effort to depict the vast number of people impacted by gunfire.

“People just can’t comprehend this,” Leslie Lee, founder Soul Box said. “Our brains are not wired to understand that 70,000 people a year are killed or injured by gunfire.”

If words couldn’t adequately convey the scope of the problem, Lee thought art might be a better way of showing the thousands of people killed and injured each year. From all over the country, people have made and sent Lee almost 120,000 origami boxes.

Each box represents one life, one soul killed with gunfire — some boxes with faces of those who’ve lost their lives. 

“A disproportionate number of them are black and brown,” Lee said. “So this fits into this awakening, this awareness that’s going on right now.”

The boxes make up a growing exhibit that’s taken the form of a procession through Salem, with installations of box exhibits in Seattle, Portland and at the Multnomah Arts Center in Multnomah Villiage. 

One box has northwest Portland’s Jacob Mesch’s picture on it — Jacob took his own life just nine months ago. His parents put the box together to add their son’s name to a long list of people who’ve died at the hand of a gun. 

“It goes beyond words,” Andrew Mesch, Jacob’s father said. “It was a moment I’ll never forget, it was important and it was very powerful and not only that to recognize that I wasn’t alone. For some reason, I had become very lonely in this place of grief — it was getting pretty dark.”

The goal is to collect 200,000 for a large public installation on the National Mall in Spring 2021, reminiscent of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. 

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