The artists with Assemble to Disassemble in the Texas Capitol Ground Floor Rotunda 
during the first week of the 86th Legislature, 2019. (Photo by Philip Rogers)

From the Texas Capitol to Harvard: Artists Address Gun Culture

Lalena Fisher
Mison Kim
Naomi Spinak 

RECEPTION & TOWN HALL – “What Can Arts Activism Accomplish?”
Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center Commons
1350 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA
Thursday, February 27, 2020
6:30 – 8:00 PM

Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, Arts Wing
1350 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA
February 28 – March 10, 2020
12:00 – 2:00 PM and 4:00 – 6:00 PM, Daily

Kim and Fisher will also welcome the public to view and discuss their work in the Arts Wing gallery space, on the second floor of the Smith Center, on Friday, February 28 from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.


Assemble to Disassemble questions gun culture through the work of three artists who first installed the exhibition in the Texas Capitol last year. Mison Kim, Naomi Spinak and Lalena Fisher now bring their exhibition to the Harvard Smith Campus Center in partnership with the Risk and Resilience Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Office for the Arts at Harvard. The drawing, textiles and sculpture of these artists from three different states highlight power dynamics in our institutions, illustrate in 3D the determination of youth in making change, and memorialize the victims of gun violence in a way that showcases the contradictions in American values.

Dozens of black paper Mary Jane shoes stand aligned almost menacingly toward a disassembled AR-15. This installation gives the exhibition its name. Fisher, a native Texan, was moved to create this work for the Capitol after seeing the determination of young people demanding sensible gun regulation in 2018.

The rifle parts lay neatly at the toes of the shoes as if the kids have done their work. Blossoming on the floor among the rifle pieces are small white flowers made from a white-bread-and-glue recipe, migajón, used by generations of women to create heirlooms for their daughters and granddaughters. The handcrafted blossoms represent home, hope, and a new generation who will grow into tomorrow’s leaders.

“While in my artistic practice I often reference girlhood as a time of strength, idealism, confidence, and imagination, in this piece the shoes are meant to represent all children, and in fact any and all underrepresented Americans,” Fisher says. Polls consistently find that more than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun sales.

The shoes in Assemble to Disassemble were made of paper by friends, colleagues and kids. “A community of hands helped create this work,” Fisher says. “It reinforces the unity out here on the ground: We want better gun legislation.”

After she had initially conceived the installation, Fisher happened to be traveling in Washington state, and saw Spinak’s powerful workLater, Fisher noticed the gun-shaped architectural drawings posted on longtime colleague and friend Kim’s Instagram feed. Placed together between and around the Ground Floor Rotunda columns, the exhibition confronted hundreds of lawmakers as well as the Governor, staff, lobbyists, and members of the public who traversed the building during the opening week of the most recent Legislative session.

Fisher also brings new work to the Smith Campus Center: And to the Republic for Which it Stands, a large drawing that grew out of the process of making Assemble; as well as Ammunition, a small wall-mounted migajón sculpture that further explores the themes of resilience and legacy.

Naomi Spinak, Sweet Land of Liberty

A large flag, at first glance, appears to be the Stars and Stripes. But Naomi Spinak’s quilt, Sweet Land of Liberty, is lovingly embroidered with the names of Americans who have died in mass gun murders. The bright stars are replaced by silhouettes of AR-15 rifles. It is estimated that Americans own between 8.5 million and 15 million AR-15s. The most popular semi-automatic rifle, this weapon was used to murder people in Aurora, Newtown, San Bernardino, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and Pittsburgh.

“Listening to the news of yet another school shooting, I thought, ‘Our flag doesn’t stand for freedom right now, it stands for guns,’” says Spinak, who lives and works in Washington state. “When the freedom to own a gun is more important than the freedom from fear of being gunned down, the signal has changed.”

Many embroiderers worked on this project with Spinak, lending their time and handwork, an act that recalls the many minutes, hours, and years of women’s work to try and improve our lives and communities. Sweet Land of Liberty has also been exhibited in Washington state at the Kitsap Human Rights Conference, the Bainbridge Art Museum, Bainbridge Performing Arts Center.

“I hope that in my lifetime we can find the will to reduce meaningless killings in this country—that the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ again speak to me, and to the world, of living safely as our flag flies.”

The Arts Wing will be showing several more textiles in this body of work by Spinak, including American Sampler, a crosstitch piece displaying a variety of firearms which was part of a November exhibition at Las Laguna Gallery in Laguna Beach, California.

Mison Kim, St. Tommy Gun

Architectural drawings appear as familiar silhouettes. In viewing them, questions arise about the relationship our institutions have with aggression, manipulation, and domination. Seen closer, these floor plans of real government and religious buildings open up to reveal an interior pulsing with tentacle-like linework by New York artist Mison Kim. She titled this group of drawings Guns, Games and Glory.

“The grandest architecture is both eloquent and beautiful, and I thought, that’s where I’d like my lines to live,” Kim says. “These architectures are also associated with presenting society’s greatest aspirations.” As she explored floor plans and engaged in the drawing process, she discovered the weapon shapes that emerged from the contours of some floor plans. And the black and white circles, indicating columns, began to read like stones from the ancient territorial board game Go. Situating her hand-inked lines within the structures of institutions and presenting them to an audience invariably led to readings of the drawings as commentaries on those institutions. Such readings are influenced by the viewer’s own prior experiences and convictions.

“Art, for me, has always been about questioning. If one questions things there is a possibility for understanding. To make drawings that appear different at a distance than what is seen up close, is one way I give viewers a place to start.”

While the prints were on display at the Texas Capitol, the Harvard Smith Campus Center Arts Wing will be exhibiting the original drawings in Guns, Games and Glory.

The event is hosted by the Risk and Resilience Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Office for the Arts, and Common Spaces.