Miami Artist Chire Regans Highlights the Victims of Gun Violence

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Artist Chire Regans, who also goes by the street name VantaBlack.

Photo by Jayme Gershen

Soft pinks and blues swirl in the sky over the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood. As the sun goes down, an intimate crowd gathers for the opening of the latest exhibition by artist Chire Regans. The exhibition entitled “A Reflection of the Times” shows 100 portraits of victims of gun violence.

The exhibition, which will run until November 1, was commissioned by Commissioner in collaboration with the New World School of the Arts and curated by the Women Artists Archive Miami.

The artist, fittingly wearing a T-shirt that reads “Black Women VS Everybody”, greets familiar faces with a warm hug. While members of the art and advocacy groups gather and exchange courtesies, an elderly woman sits quietly and quietly. Her magnificent silver hair lies like a gentle mist over high mountains in winter. There is something about her that expresses a sense of peace.

Before the group passes the dozen of studio doors and enters the exhibition space, there is a special spoken word performance by Sirena Saul. Deep down in her soul, Saul talks about her personal experiences with gun violence. Isaiah Solomon, her 15-year-old son, was hit by a stray bullet and died. He left a family member’s home and was on his way home. In two months he would have been 16 years old.

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Then Regans turns to the crowd and asks for someone to join her. The silver-haired woman comes from the back of the room. “This is Mrs. Ann,” says the artist and visibly fights back the tears. “And she’s the mother of the first person I’ve ever loved outside of my family.”

Ann Griggs Anderson is the mother of James Reid III, who was shot dead in 1996. He was 19 years old.

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Chire Regans speaks to the crowd at the opening of the

Chire Regans speaks to the crowd that has gathered at the opening of “A Reflection of the Times”.

Photo by Gesi Schilling with the kind permission of the commissioner

James Reid’s death marked the first time Regans personally suffered a gun violence loss – but it wasn’t to be the last. Since then she has lost two cousins, Darrell and Patrick Smith, whose portraits are part of the exhibition.

“I tell my personal story [too]”Regans told the New Times later that evening. “I don’t want to be voyeuristic. I have to start with myself. I was hit by gun violence, so I have to tell this story too and treat the other stories with the same care. ”

Regans, who graduated from the New World School of the Arts before graduating from Florida A&M University with a degree in Fine and Performing Arts, began her portrait project in 2016. After the death of King Carter, a boy from northwest Miami, she felt compelled to channel her emotions into art.

Instead of screaming into space, she took a pencil.

“Artists have a responsibility to reflect on what is going on in the world,” says Regans, adding that the inspiration for the title of the exhibition comes from an old quote by Nina Simone.

“[Nina] says that your responsibility as an artist is to reflect on time, and if you don’t, you can’t call yourself an artist. I really believe that it is an artist’s duty to portray what is going on around them, ”she explains. “We play an important role in the community, and if an artist is not honest what happens, what do you do?”

She admits that her work carries unspeakable weight and is quick to point out that it is nothing compared to that of families who have lost a loved one to gun violence.

“If you can support this weight, I can support this weight.”

The stories of every face she draws stay with her. The conversations with family members repeat in her head as she creates. Although she’s the one who puts her emotions on the side, the experience is cathartic for both the artist and the families of her subjects.

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Tanya Young Fincher, mother of Desmond Fincher, who was shot dead outside a grocery store in 2005.  - PHOTOGRAPH BY GESI SCHILLING, WITH THE FRIENDLY APPROVAL OF THE Commissioner

Tanya Young Fincher, mother of Desmond Fincher, who was shot dead outside a grocery store in 2005.

Photo by Gesi Schilling with the kind permission of the commissioner

“I want people to know that this person is more than what happened to them,” she says, pausing as a plane flies overhead. “And that everyone who loved this person is affected by the fact that they are no longer here.”

The intimate reception before the official opening of the exhibition was attended by people personally affected by armed violence. Some of them referred to the faces hanging on the wall, like Tanya Young Fincher, Desmond Fincher’s mother, who was shot dead outside a grocery store in 2005. Another mother drove down from West Palm Beach to see the portrait of her son Tinorisori Williams.

In the past five years, Regans has drawn over 250 portraits, many of which she gives away to grieving families.

For “A Reflection of the Times” the artist narrowed the work down to 100 portraits and focused heavily on victims from South Florida as well as heavily reported national cases. The choice to exhibit exactly one hundred portraits was made consciously: every day, an average of 100 people die from armed violence.

From the wall, the faces of George Floyd, Dale Graham, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Israel Hernandez, Samantha Murphy, Michael Brown, and 93 others smile down on you. Your essence is frozen in time, in a moment you will never experience it again.

“I want people to understand this is happening,” Regans says. “It happens to the people around you. And you can do something about it. ”

After you’ve lost yourself in work, in faces, and in the arts, it’s time to take action. Accompanying the exhibition is a website with all 100 names and links to resources that invite you to participate.

“I want you to get into work and then look inside and decide what to do about it,” Regans explains. “There is always something people can do and sometimes they don’t know where to start.”

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Portraits of Chire Regans hang on the walls

Portraits of Chire Regans’ “A Reflection of the Times” hang on the walls.

Photo by Gesi Schilling with the kind permission of the commissioner

Bakehouse isn’t the only place to see Regans’ work. On the corner of NW Sixth Avenue and 32nd Street, just outside the complex, the artist has painted a mural that spans more than a block. The names of 547 victims of armed violence are painted white.

Regans says that during the six months it took to complete the mural, people drove by and told her their own personal stories, leading her to add more names to the wall. Some people gave up to three names of those they knew well who succumbed to gun violence.

“In all of these conversations I’ve had with families, they just want support,” Regans says. “They want to be seen and they want loved ones to be remembered because whatever that person lived, they are gone. And everyone who loved that person is affected. We are all affected. ”

“A Reflection of Time” by Chire Regans. On view through November 1 at the Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St., Miami; 305-576-2828; bacfl.org. Free entry.

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