Paper shooting targets with the silhouette of a human torso have been going up around downtown Phoenix in recent days. They’re the work of Phoenix artist Bob Booker, whose art practice often tackles social issues.
For Gun Control Now, an art intervention made up of modified targets posted in public spaces, the issue is gun violence.
“We’re all being barraged by what’s happening with gun violence in our country,” Booker says. “I’m a firm believer that public action and artistic action is powerful.”
In Booker’s case, that action included buying about 100 targets from a local sporting goods store, then altering them using simple materials, and posting them around town.
Booker used rubber stamps to mark each torso with one of four words: Mother, Father, Daughter, or Son. Each target has a simple message in the lower right-hand corner: Gun Control Now.
So far, he’s placed them in parts of downtown Phoenix and Mesa, plus ASU’s Tempe campus. Friends are posting them in other cities, including New Orleans and Minneapolis, then sharing photos on Booker’s Facebook page.
This isn’t the first time an artist has posted work with a particular message around downtown Phoenix.
In early 2017, Pete Petrisko created stickers he called “subvertisements” in response to rampant development in the Roosevelt Row arts district. Petrisko’s work satirized gentrification with his tagline: “Luxury Living & Good Eats District.”
Later that year, three artists from other states brought their When Women Disrupt project to downtown Phoenix, installing wheat-paste posters depicting women of color with messages such as “White supremacy is killing me.”
Booker hopes his work will put a human face on gun violence, so people start to realize that the next victim could be someone they love, or themselves. “I’m hoping that it jars people."
That’s what happened during the AIDS crisis, he says. Booker’s partner died of AIDS-related complications, so he speaks from personal experience. “Art gave voice to the epidemic in a way no medical report ever could.”
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Booker likens the simplicity of Gun Control Now to images and messages that were particularly effective during the early AIDS crisis — including a pink triangle and the slogan “Act Up.”
His own body of work includes an “HIV/AIDS Series,” which features photo transfers of Polaroid images paired with emotionally charged words: Blood, Sex, Death. “Part of my work is being socially responsible,” Booker says.
He’s hoping others will take notice, and feel inspired to act.
“At this particular time, writing letters to legislators isn’t enough,” Booker says. “We need to create compelling images and stories that get everyone moving forward.”