Photo Caption 1: Carla Reyes Miller shares stories about her son Kevin Wayne Miller, (seen in the portrait to her right), whose life was cut short due to gun violence, at RCSJ Cumberland’s “Souls Shot Portrait Project” opening program.
Photo Caption 2: Carthornia Kouroupos, center, converses with artist Rebecca Thornburgh (l), and Laura Madeleine, the initiator of the “Souls Shot Portrait Project.” Thornburgh created the portrait of Kouroupos’ brother, Ronald Sanders, (portrait to her right), who was killed in a robbery more than 40 years ago.
Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) Cumberland campus held an artist reception and opening program for the “Souls Shot Portrait Project: Portraits of Victims of Gun Violence" exhibition on Monday, March 13. The event was held in the College's Brown University Center.
The mission of this poignant exhibit is to illuminate the lives of victims cut short by the epidemic of gun violence in this country through the transformative power of art. The artists taking part in this project were randomly paired with the families and friends of victims to create the portraits.
“Artist Laura Madeleine initiated this compelling exhibition that features portraits celebrating survivors of gun violence and memorializing those whose lives it has claimed," said Judy MacKenzie, director, Radio, Television, and Film Services, RCSJ.
Artists created the portraits employing a variety of styles, approaches, and mediums to reflect the diversity and individuality of the victims, as seen through the eyes of their loved ones.
Artwork by Eoin Kinnarney, associate professor, Communication and Creative & Performing Arts, RCSJ Gloucester and Jackie Sandro-Greenwell, director, Fine Arts and Clay College, RCSJ Cumberland, will be displayed in the exhibit.
“Often the portraits include poems written by a family member or images of the victim's interest, children, and siblings," said Sandro-Greenwell. “[This provides] a glimpse into the victim's life and how much they were loved and valued as a human."
Several of the victims' family members, who have ties to RCSJ, attended the opening program including Carla Reyes Miller and Carthornia Kouroupos.
Kouroupos, assistant professor, English, RCSJ Gloucester, was present to witness the memorialization of her brother Ronald Sanders. Reyes Miller, who graduated from the College with an associate degree in Social Work in 2022, was in attendance to honor her son, Kevin Wayne Miller. His portrait was crafted by Kinnarney.
“I have to tell you, the first time I saw [his portrait], it really touched my heart because it gave me a little bit of Kevin back," Reyes Miller revealed. “And then to know that the artist was part of Rowan College … it was divine."
“If I can share a little bit about Kevin, which I didn't today – he was only 19 … and his life was taken making a decision to make a difference in somebody's life," she continued. “The Souls Shot Portrait Project has helped me be his voice and make a difference."
MacKenzie, who played a leading role bringing the Souls Shot Portrait Project to the Cumberland campus, is hopeful the impact of the project will provide a little piece of peace to the victims' family members and friends, as well as initiate the kind of change that will lead to a better tomorrow.
“It is my hope that it will be healing for them to have their loved ones to be remembered in a positive light," Mackenzie said. “I also hope that the exhibition will bring attention to the epidemic of gun violence and engage our students, staff, and other attendees in ways to prevent it."
The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, runs now through April 28. Gallery hours at the Brown University Center are Monday through Friday 8 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. You can also make an appointment to see the portraits except when the Cumberland campus is closed for Spring Break on March 16 and 17, and the Easter holiday celebration from April 7-10.
For more information about “Souls Shot Portrait Project: Portraits of Gun Violence," please visit SoulsShotPortraitProject.org.