As Bonita Foster bounded toward the busy, sunny plaza at the corner of Huron and Rush streets, her stomach fluttered.
“Just as I was coming around the wall, I got a butterfly,” Foster said. “… Almost like I was coming around the corner to meet Porshe. But she’s not here.”
It has been more than two years since her 15-year-old daughter was shot and killed as she visited friends on the Southwest Side. As part of a public art exhibit highlighting gun violence, Porshe’s shape — height, weight and teenage casual stance — had been carefully studied and sculpted with plaster over wire mesh before she was dressed in her distinct style. Missing was an image of her face, done intentionally to highlight her family’s loss.
Foster was heading into the plaza to view the lifelike statue for the first time.
There her daughter was, in a swingy skirt, knit gray hat and scarf, fitted jacket and black leggings, one foot flipped back.
“It’s a good look. It looks like something she would wear,” Foster said quietly as she looked at the mannequinlike sculpture.
Porshe was one of eight victims of gun violence featured in the exhibit on display Friday at the St. James Cathedral plaza.
The exhibit is part of “Unforgotten,” a public awareness campaign by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence that will be traveling around the state, but Friday’s event provided the first chance for families of the eight victims to view the statues.
Curious passers-by also wandered into the plaza, leaning in close to gaze at the vacant faces of the statues. A woman walking by couldn’t manage any words and teared up. A young child sat on a bench next to the statue of Terrell Bosley, a bass guitar case slung over his back. Bosley, who played in a church band, was fatally shot in 2006 as he helped a bandmate unload drums from a car.
“These are all victims of gun violence in Chicago?” Lettie Tokarski asked as she wandered onto the plaza with her husband. “Heartbreaking.”
From a distance, the statues appeared real: a student heading to or from class, his backpack slung over his back; a girl staying warm, her fur hood pulled up.
But as viewers got closer, the figures turned haunting as it became clear that none had faces, a jarring reminder that no matter how real they looked, these people were forever gone. This ghostly feature of the project was slightly off-putting to Foster at first, but she has since come to understand the potential power of the image.
“I think it’s a really good way of presenting my daughter, who walked this earth and had purpose,” Foster said in an interview before she viewed the exhibit. “… It does (convey) the message that my daughter was once here and she is no longer here.”
The victims featured in “Unforgotten” include some who remain well-known, like Hadiya Pendleton, a high schooler who was slain in 2013 just days after performing at events related to President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Blair Holt, son of a Chicago firefighter and a Chicago police officer, was killed on a CTA bus in 2007 as he shielded a friend after shots rang out. But there were also lesser-known victims like Porshe, who was visiting a friend in 2012 when someone sprayed the yard with bullets.
Each statue was molded in a way to capture how they stood or maybe slouched, or what they carried with them. Artists studied photographs and watched videos. They learned the exact heights and weights of each victim. They talked extensively with family members. And when possible, they dressed them in the victim’s own clothing.
“We tried to find their essence with the poses, how they would stand … to almost bring them back to life to tell their own story,” said lead artist Jordan Sparrow, who works at the advertising agency FCB Chicago.
The campaign was launched at a time when warmer weather brings a cyclical uptick in gun violence. And while Chicago’s violence has been on a steady decline since the early to mid-1990s, more than 400 people still were killed last year alone. Gun violence remains a persistent problem in many of the same city neighborhoods, leaving residents there battered by the problem.
“Unforgotten” also was designed to raise awareness about violence across the state, where about 1,000 people die by gunfire each year, organizers said. Among the eight victims featured in the exhibit was Ryanne Mace, a 19-year-old from Carpentersville who died along with four others in the 2008 classroom shooting at Northern Illinois University.
As the morning progressed Friday, it became clear that the instant it takes to lose someone to a shooting results in entrenched sorrow. Holt’s mother, Annette Nance-Holt, wept quietly as she stood with a few others beside his statue.
When Pamela Bosley, Terrell’s mother, sat on a bench next to her son’s statue posing for a picture, her face appeared strained. She later said it had been painful to part with his clothing.
But the statues brought back other memories as well. Chicago police Cmdr. Ron Holt, Blair’s father, said that as he was heading east on Huron toward the plaza, he gazed up and zeroed in immediately on his son’s statue. He was taken right back.
“I’m looking at all the images and I said, ‘OK, that’s Blair,'” he said with a smile as he looked over his son’s statue. “… It is a reminder of who Blair was as a teenager and as a young man and how he carried himself. He was a young man of promise and hope.”
Source: Chicago Tribune