PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — More than 330 people have been killed this year in Philadelphia, according to police. That’s more homicide victims than there were at this time last year — and 2021 was the city’s deadliest year on record, with 560 lives taken.
The number of grieving loved ones left behind is even greater.
The hope and resilience of all those people who must live with the long-term effects of violent crime is the subject of an exhibit, currently on display at City Hall, called “We Are Here — Stories and Expressions of Healing.”
“When someone passes away it’s a ripple down effect. There are hundreds of lives attached to them, but they’re never accounted for,” said artist Zarinah Lomax, who curated the exhibit.
“This is to help them see the lives that are all around them, that are left here to heal, and to acknowledge that, and put them in their face — so they can see them and they can start to help them to heal, because they want the help.”
The exhibit, spanning the second, third and fourth floors of the building, features paintings and wearable art created by 30 Philadelphia-area artists. Lomax says she hopes the “in their face” art will help other victims share their stories.
For Lomax, it’s personal.
“I am a co-victim, so that’s how I understand,” she said. “My girlfriend’s daughter was murdered March 18, 2018 — her name was Dominique Olgelsby — on 52nd and Market. She was 23.”
“That’s a crime scene recreated through clothes,” she said, describing a piece of her artwork on display. “You know, you show up, unfortunately you see the body laying down. You see the caution tape. You see the markers. So, I recreated that.”
Many of the featured artists are also survivors. Their work expresses the trauma of losing someone to gun violence.
“All of the other portraits are either the emotions or the portraits of the people we lost,” Lomax said.
Artist Rachael Reyes Vazquez says the death of her father is closely tied to her work.
“My father, Rafael Vasquez, was murdered on Oct. 14, 2017, in the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia. It’s still unsolved. It's going on five years this October,” she said.
She tells the story of his death and her survival through her painting on display in the exhibit.
“It's a lot. There's butterflies, there's shadows, there's context about death — just different emotions. It's a little scattered, so it's a little bit of everything in there,” Vasquez said.
“His death — it made me rediscover my passion for art. For a while, I didn't paint at all. And I didn't know how to channel those feelings. So, it definitely opened up my mind to start painting again and releasing those feelings through emotion on canvas, to have a piece on display about my father on the levels of grief.”
“We Are Here — Stories and Expressions of Healing” is at City Hall through Oct. 14.