Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Memorials, murders, and the last post of Nic B.

While I was searching google for “makeshift memorials” today, which I frequently do to keep abreast of any new stories that might come up, I came across the website entitled Oakland Makeshift Memorials 2007.  Although the blogger decided to stop posting at the end of that year, I found the project to be insightful and thought-provoking.

I am fascinated by the intersection of spontaneous shrines and social justice, and believe memorials can be a useful tool for protest and community organization.  However, I had not really considered the documentation of shrines to be equally as powerful.  Whereas the shrines themselves call attention to individual deaths, the collection and documentation of shrines shines a light on the number and incessancy of those deaths.  When the documentation is done in a manner that respects the individuality of the shrines [such as this site, which lists the names of the deceased, along with some known personal details], it provides an interesting coming together of the unique personal nature of a shrine with the power and relentlessness of sheer quantity.

What Nic B. has accomplished in the Oakland Memorials blog is in providing a space for a community to come together and speak back to the shrines and with the shrines.  The project provides a web that links the shrines to one another without overshadowing their distinctiveness from one another.

However, I do have a few things I am still wondering about.  Nic B. has a clear goal in mind when documenting the shrines–to call attention to the reasons behind the deaths with the hopes of changing the environment that allows them to occur.  Does this serve to overtake the voices of the individual shrines–by using them as a means to an end, that may not be clearly stated by the shrines themselves?  Does being part of the public landscape invite and perhaps even condone this use?  I wonder.

With that, I’ll leave you to the final post of Nic B–

“Dear all-
I’m both saddened and relieved to say that I will not be continuing this project in 2008.
It has taken its toll on me in a number of ways, the worse being that I’ve caught myself feeling more sorry for the fact I had to go visit yet another homicide site than for the fact that another human life, dear to many, was lost.
As some of my readers have commented, this is one of the saddest consequences of these homicides: they become acceptable, routine, just an unfortunate ongoing phenomenon.
I so appreciate all those who have posted comments, reminding us that these victims were part of others’ lives. All human life is inherently sacred and valuable, and any loss, especially by violence, is unbearably tragic.
Here’s wishing 2008 sees us being more committed to addressing the issues that create the environment where such violence occurs.
Best,
Nic B”

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