October 4, 2017 Repository 209: This is Not a Gun | Smart and Urgent Work by Cara Levine Posted In: art practice, community, contemporary art, exhibition of note, kindness, perspective, social critique

“This is Not a Gun, Hairbrush for Khiel Coppin””, carved wood, part of Cara Levine’s “This is Not a Gun” project, 2016 – ongoing, materials Jelutong, 100s of hours of work, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stevenson, Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, Hilton Als, and James Baldwin on tape. Image courtesy of the artist’s web site.

“The world is violent and mercurial – it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love – love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” – Tennessee Williams

Everyday I write on the top of my to do list, “be kind, honest and necessary”. This is a simple practice, and it informs all of my decisions. It’s obvious then why I resonate to artists making work that is all of those things and some. The difference between my banal to-do list and an art project is that the art project must be urgent. As artists we are tasked, whether we like it or not, with reflecting the ethos. So no belly button gazing – let’s look honestly at the collective challenges, issues and ask big questions.

Artist Cara Levine is in the process of doing just that. Her line of inquiry is tied directly to the idea of a lack of respect for humanity in the air, and that in her words “we are actually living a cultural tragedy where humanity and life seem without worth”. Specifically, as we see in racism, some lives are more valued than others.  As with the rest of her practice she uses meditation, the body and material to sift through issues which she doesn’t understand.

Last year Cara read a list published in Harper’s* of 23 items that were mistaken for guns, where police officers shot civilians throughout the country in the year 2001. A wallet mistaken as a gun? Underwear as a gun? She felt she had to pause and take account of this proliferation of pointless deaths, to slow down and acknowledge the actual lives that have been affected by this crisis, and to draw attention to the idiocy and quick judgement of police officers. This launched her series of work and workshops “This is Not a Gun.”

Cara explains there are two threads to this project: one thread is her private studio practice and the other is community work and activism. She sees her private studio practice as a devotional practice – a way of giving time to grieve the people who died or were injured, and to give space to an understanding of why these things happen. How could something so unreasonable take place? While she is carving she listens to writing on the history of race in the United States, as an attempt to further her own education. It takes her 24 hours to carve a wallet that was mistaken for a gun, while it takes a police officer 24 seconds or less to shoot and kill an innocent person. This carving time is a meditation, and a way to grieve the victims of police gun violence and racial profiling.

The other thread of the project is to have a larger dialogue with the community about these issues. She held a workshop last May in San Francisco in conjunction with the 100 Days of Action at the Tenderloin Museum, and she will be having another workshop this coming Saturday at the Santa Fe Art Institute Courtyard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The workshops are integral to “This is Not a Gun”:  while she uses carving instruments and wood in her private studio, the public uses clay to shape the objects once perceived as guns. The clay acts as an immediate connection with the objects, and touching the clay with one’s hands creates an intimate access point to the issue at hand. Cara says the dialogues have been rich and diverse: what begins as a fun departure in creating with clay, transforms into a nuanced discussion of police not being educated on race equity, and mental illness.

Image of clay objects created by the community for the “This is Not a Gun” workshop in May of 2017 in San Francisco. Image courtesy of the artist’s web site.

Cara is just completing a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, their Equal Justice Residency Program, where it culminates in a collaborative art making workshop and dialogue this Saturday. In order to reach the local Santa Fe community she has collaborated with Alicia Inez Guzmán and Pete Jackson. All of the artwork made on Saturday will be sold at the form & concept gallery to benefit New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. If you are in the Santa Fe area please check it out!

Thank you Cara for your time in talking with me, and for your generous and thoughtful project “This is Not a Gun.”

Peace ~


This is Not a Gun

Saturday, October 7th, 1-4 PM

Santa Fe Art Institute Courtyard

1600 St. Michaels Drive

Santa Fe, NM 87505


*List of items published from Harper’s 

(From a list of objects that were mistaken for guns during shootings of civilians by police in the United States since 2001.)


Cordless drill

Water-hose nozzle


Shower rod





Bottle of cologne



Bottle of beer

Pill bottle


Cell phone



Wii remote

Toy truck




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