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Creating art as activism against gun violence

Stephanie Mercedes, who melts down bullets and guns to create art, sees her exhibits as a memorial of sorts.
Posted at 9:40 AM, Apr 04, 2023

Contrary to the way things may appear, Stephanie Mercedes sees something soft from the metal she works with and molds on a daily basis. 

Mercedes, as she goes by, spends her days inside a metal workshop just outside Washington, D.C., forging her art from heat and fire. Art that these days has taken on special significance, as mass shootings continue to rock the nation. 

"I wanted to take the object that had caused so much harm and force it into something that felt like the opposite to me," she explained.

The true depths of Mercedes' art pieces are forged from the raw materials she draws her inspiration from. For years, Mercedes has been melting down bullets and guns. 

"It's impossible to live in the United States today and not think of gun violence on a daily basis," she added.

It's not that she is a gun enthusiast — it is quite the opposite. Mercedes melted down her first gun in 2016. It was a Sig Sauer MCX, the same kind of semiautomatic assault-style rifle officials say was used in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

50 people were killed in the attack. 

"Because I'm gay and Latina, I could've been in that club. How many times in my life had I found solace in a queer Latinx nightclub?" she said.

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At a temperature of 1220 degrees Fahrenheit, Mercedes melted that gun down and turned it into 50 bells — one for each victim. It was in that first installation that this 29-year-old found her medium of choice.

Seven years later, she's melted down dozens of guns. At a time when mass shootings regularly shake the country, including just last week in Nashville, Tennessee, Mercedes sees her exhibits as a memorial of sorts.

"What I hope is people enter into the space and are able to have an intimate, raw and emotional experience," she noted. 

Guns are a hot-button issue in this country. Turning them into art, it turns out, is no different. Mercedes is regularly attacked on social media. 

"I have been trolled by the alt-right many times, and I've been reviewed by Breitbart news," Mercedes explained. "When you get 200 comments on one post in one minute, you're getting trolled."

Part of the reason, she says, is that her art is also part activism.

"One of my bells takes 30 bullet casings (to make), so at the very least, it's one less bullet casing which is in circulation."