Probing the pain of urban violence

Anonymous Boston
By EDITORIAL  |  November 9, 2011

anon-1

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
_T.S. Eliot

To comprehend that violence takes on our minority neighborhoods — and the skewed distortions the media conveys of those tragedies — you could begin by visiting the exhibition now on display at the Fourth Wall Project, 132 Brookline Avenue, near Kenmore Square.

Titled "Anonymous Boston," this multimedia installation shines the cleansing light of humanity on the victims of urban homicide and their families.

It is hard to imagine that anyone of average sensitivity who experiences "Anonymous Boston" will be able to consume future media reports of fatal gunplay in Roxbury, Mattapan, and parts of Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and the South End without asking themselves: what's the real story behind this? What were the hopes and dreams of those killed? How can the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers cope with their grief? How intense is their pain? How profound is their loss?

"Too often the media uses urban tragedy for purposes beyond informing — purposes that are exploitative and spun for entertainment," says Joanna Marinova-Jones, the community activist who orchestrated the exhibit. "Yet once the coffin closes and the photo ops are over, the families are left to put the pieces back together."

What "Anonymous Boston" does — with a quiet yet fiercely determined dignity — is to curate those shards of eviscerating experience and juxtapose them against the realities of simple family facts, of children's hopes, of young people's dreams.

Through the words and images of "Anonymous Boston," those who died transcend their clichéd victimhood, reassert their essence, and re-establish their claim on communal memory.

"Anonymous Boston" carries voices from the grave, and those voices say this: we were not victims; we were neighbors.

There is nothing strident or preachy, ideological or political, about "Anonymous Boston." No grand policies are promoted. No public officials are scapegoated.

The exhibition is about the need — emotionally, intellectually, morally — to understand.

What gives "Anonymous Boston" its bite, what makes it staggeringly relevant, are the unattributed Internet posts that sit next to the portraits of the dead.

"This poor boy was shot in a ghetto in the city. A ghetto filled with uneducated scum. All people living in subsidized housing should be drug tested," reads one of the anonymous posts from which the show takes its name.

"Anonymous Boston" cuts through the shadows of ignorance, the darkness of intolerance. It compares and contrasts reality and perception. It illustrates that life, real life — although compromised by the pain of violent death — matters. And it demonstrates that false perceptions polluted by smug self-satisfaction can, in their own way, be as deadly to the spirit as bullets are to the flesh.

It seems to us that "Anonymous Boston" (for which the Boston Phoenix serves as media sponsor) deserves to live beyond its November 19 closing. Given the groundbreaking work done by the Boston Foundation on a wide range of urban issues, in a perfect world it would be yet another service if the Foundation could find a way to finance this multimedia show so that it could tour Boston's schools carrying its message of hope and understanding. If that were possible, perhaps another group or consortium could expand the reach, enabling a tour of urban and suburban schools and other community gathering places. The only shortcoming this eloquent and soulful piece of art has is — it turns out — a date of expiration.

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