Pittsburgh experienced some of the most difficult events in its history in 2018. In June, 17-year-old Antwon Rose II was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer, who was later found not-guilty in his homicide trial, both of which sparked passionate protests in the city. Then in October 2018, the shooting at Tree of Life made Pittsburgh the center of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. It’s a lot of pain for a city to bear, especially for the communities most affected.
But in the time since, it’s been encouraging to see communities show solidarity for each other when it mattered the most. Stones and Roses, an exhibit by Jewish social justice organization Repair the World at East End Cooperative Ministry, brings together photography and paintings about the aftermath of both shootings.
The show features several photographs by Brian Cohen, who captured scenes of protests in reaction to both tragedies. Photos from a student march show large crowds of young people showing up for Rose, carrying signs that said “How old was he? 17.” and "3 shots in the back. How do you justify that?" More detailed shots focus on purple felt roses affixed to trees, which were crafted by Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc during the homicide trial of the police officer who shot Rose.
In turn, Bend the Arc commissioned paintings from artist DS Kinsel, co-founder of BOOM Concepts, on the one-year anniversary of Tree of Life. The paintings feature the names of other cities that have experienced violence during the Trump administration, especially those with events tied to white supremacy, including Charlottesville, Louisville, Poway, and El Paso. The signs were first featured at a press conference Bend the Arc held in October, days before President Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh for a Marcellus Shale conference, and right around the first anniversary of Tree of Life shooting. Cohen’s photos show volunteers holding Kinsel’s paintings at Point State Park, as well as the news cameras pointing at them.
Now, the paintings hang at East End Cooperative Ministry among Cohen’s photos, including more scenes from that day, like Kinsel’s paintings surrounded by carefully placed rocks and yahrzeit candles (Jewish memorial candles).
The exhibit gets its name, Stones and Roses, from different ways of mourning, and how communities help each other to do so. Roses, for Antwon’s name and for the purple roses Bend the Arc started making after seeing how people supported the Jewish community after Tree of Life, which included volunteers hanging hand-knit Stars of David around Squirrel Hill. The stones represent the Jewish tradition of leaving rocks instead of flowers when visiting a gravestone.
The show also features paintings from Muslim artist Ebtehal Badawi, including a unity poster she made that reads “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges,” as well as work from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s CHUTZ-POW! comic series about superheroes of the Holocaust.
Everything about the show is a community effort, from events in the photos, to the way the exhibit brought local, like-minded organizations together. Stones and Roses, which runs through April 21, 2020, has support from Bend the Arc, the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, 1Hood, and BOOM Concepts.
Julie Mallis, program director at Repair the World, says they were hanging pieces for the exhibit when they heard the news of an anti-Semitic attack at a kosher market in New Jersey that killed three people last week. Simultaneously, Trump issued a confusing, but certainly divisive, executive order concerning the definition of Judaism and anti-Semitism. Mallis worries that some of the photos depicting police in riot gear arresting peaceful protesters will provoke a negative reaction, but ultimately, the exhibit is about unity.
When the exhibit ends in April, it will coincide with Yom HaTzedek, a new Jewish holiday focused on social justice. To close it out, Repair the World will host a zine-making workshop with Shulayim L’Shalom, a group for LGBTQ Jewish youth.
“I want people to feel a sense of community and support, and less about feeling angry and sad,” says Mallis. “Even if they don’t share your identity, people still care.”