Hate draws lines. Resistance to hate should not.
That’s a key message of “Stones & Roses,” a new art exhibit about community resilience in the face of violence. Organizers are responding to Pittsburgh-area tragedies like the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting and the police killing, just months earlier, of African-American teenager Antwon Rose II.
The exhibit “highlights black, Jewish and intersectional solidarity,” according to a press release. Included are everything from paintings and protest signs to photographs of street marches. The exhibit opens with a reception Sunday at East End Cooperative Ministry, in East Liberty.
“Stones & Roses” is organized by Jewish social-service group Repair the World Pittsburgh, with art and assistance from organizations including the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Bend the Arc, BOOM Concepts, 1Hood Media, and the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center. Contributing artists include DS Kinsel, Ebtehal Badawi, and photographer Brian Cohen.
Lauren Bairnsfather, director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, said the exhibit is part of a larger effort to oppose bigotry. “We’re talking a lot about anti-Semitism in the context of other forms of hatred,” she said. “It’s all connected. That’s the solidarity piece of this.”
Bairnsfather said that in “Stones & Roses,” the Center will showcase the latest edition of its comic-book series “Chutz-Pow!,” which depicts real-life heroes of the Holocaust. The edition highlights women’s stories, and Muslims who rescued Jews.
Cohen’s photographs document the way art is used in public protests, including the purple fabric roses used to memorialize Rose, who was killed at age 17 while fleeing a police stop of a vehicle he was riding in. Protests continued after a jury found Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh police officer who killed Rose, not guilty of homicide.
The 12 works by Kinsel in the show were actually canvas paintings commissioned for use as protest signs by Jewish social-justice group Bend the Arc during President Donald Trump’s recent visit here. It was about a year after the Tree of Life shooting, and Bend the Arc asked Kinsel to create signs with the names of cities – including Pittsburgh and Charlottesville, Va. – where the group said violence tied to white supremacists or Trump's policies had occurred.
Kinsel, who is African-American, is the co-founder of artspace BOOM Concepts. He said the Bend the Arc's commission felt like a complement to his decade of work with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
He said he was gratified to see his signs have a life following the protest. “I’m glad we can continue to tell the story, and there’s some usage afterward,” he said.
Other artworks in "Stones & Roses" also respond to recent incidents. In December 2018, cell-phone footage of a 14-year-old girl in a hijab – a Syrian refugee – being beaten by a Chartiers Valley High School classmate went viral and made national news.
Ebethal Badawi, herself an immigrant from Saudi Arabia, responded by creating a poster with the slogan “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges.” It depicts a golden bridge topped by an array of upraised forearms of various skintones, each seeming to uphold the symbol of a different world religion.
“It could help kids understand that even if we look different, we can build bridges between us,” said Badawi.
“It’s not just for Islamophobia,” adds Badawi. “It’s for everyone who looks different. And they can fit in Pittsburgh, and they can feel safe, to be who they are.”
She said her work is being exhibited at Jefferson Hills Intermediate School, in the school district where her family resides.