School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: #ARTIVISM – When Art is the only Weapon

A post on Facebook literally stopped me in my tracks. Artist Annie Lightsey had turned target practice sheets into riveting works of art to counterbalance the impact of community gun violence. She is using art as her only weapon and it is powerful. I am honored that Annie is sharing her art, philosophy and vision with the readers of this blog. 


                  Artist Annie Lightsey


Work in progress. After receiving a pack of target practice sheets, I knew that I wanted to do a series of pieces that speak to gun violence. This is the first, “Let Us At Least Leave Flowers.”

Let Us at Least Leave Flowers


“They will beat their guns into poems and sing out love.
No more bullets, no more guns, instead let LOVE pierce our hearts.
Is it in vain that we come to sprout on the earth?
Let us at least leave songs.
Let us at least leave flowers.”

– From “Cento”, Created on April 20th, 2018 (full poem is found at the end of this blog post).

From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources.

Any of my creative friends, I am serious. Let’s make this a community project. I have so many of these target practice sheets (and vintage “bullseye” targets) for you to alter. Paint on them, collage over them, write a poem on them, do whatever you do. Let’s make an altar of love in answer to apathy and violence.

According to The Pew Research Center, “In 2017, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 39,773 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the CDC.” 39,773 people. That is roughly the population of Westfield (39,493). And, in our country, gun violence disproportionately affects women, children, minorities, and the marginalized.

Yesterday, someone asked me what was my “purpose” for painting on target practice sheets. Am I trying to bring awareness to the issue of gun violence in America? Am I protesting something? My answer is “yes, and…” because, what I really want to do is something restorative and something communal. When I opened the package of target sheets, I was struck first by how small they are. The small size of the figure simulates shooting at a greater distance, but the figures on the sheets are child sized. They are child sized. And everyone of them is identical. Sheet after sheet of faceless, black silhouetted sameness.

What I want to do with these is paint each one and encourage others to paint some too. Make art and beauty from the ashes of ugliness and violence. Remind everyone that each person who dies as the result of gun violence was not a nameless, faceless statistic. They were a human being filled with life, beauty, and potential. I have no idea where this project will go, but 39,773 is a sobering number of people to honor.

“Cento” in its entirety: Created by poets and activists on Friday April 20, 2018 in DC’s Lafayette Square Park.

Poetry means refusing the choice to kill or die

For every politician taking money from the NRA – SHAME ON YOU!

I will not shoot myself in the head, and I will not

Because children are learning the M-16 when they should be playing guitar

Bloodshed ceases only when every child belongs
Then, the village thrives

The child received a lollipop for remaining quiet during the lockdown drill.

They will beat their guns into poems and sing out love.

No more bullets, no more guns, instead let LOVE pierce our hearts.

A people so dead, we drink the death of our own

I’m through fighting for peace.
I’ll simply, graciously peace for peace

What makes a man with a gun seem bigger than a man with almonds?

Institutions of learning should be safe havens for our children, not shooting ranges.

My country ‘tis of quivering
child breath
held in a closet

Their thoughts and prayers make nothing
but empty rosaries of bullets

I don’t want to write a memorial poem… and wear shackles of resignation

Our hearts are less fragile than the nothingness that pulls the trigger

The shrapnel in our lungs weighs us down
but makes us stronger

Get down on the grass as if the ground were a shield

Seven seconds, that’s all it takes
for a living black man to be a dead one

Don’t curl your finger around that trigger.
Just curl it: Welcome someone.

Grief challenges greed
How much money from the NRA do you need?

Can you hear us being held at gunpoint? Is it because you’re holding the gun?

Rhythmic pops pique notice questions… panic
Power taken
Silence as vacuum

I’m gonna lay down my false idols, death

Mama, what will you do about dead kids who
were almost me?

Paola, Gabrielito, Aurora, Armando I stand here for you in love

Is it in vain that we come to sprout on the earth?
Let us at least leave songs.
Let us at least leave flowers.

This world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily.

Books or guns?
Healthcare or guns?
Children or guns?
What to choose?

Here we are,
building graveyards
on the backs of our children

And now a knot of lies
eating at itself to get undone

Tools of Blues
aimed at bodies funded by sun
Black gold still traded for guns

Artist Statement: I think every person carries within her or him, the seed of creativity. Each one of us exists as a walking, breathing, heart-beating icon of sacred artistry. The divine potential that we all have beautifully finds expression in the art we create. To my mind, the process of making art is far more important than the product. When someone paints a painting, writes a poem, or bakes the perfect loaf of bread, he or she fashions something tangible, of course; but also, through the work of being creative, experiences something tangible. The creative journey has inspired the artist even as the artist has created a work of inspiration.

Artist Bio : A native of Southern California, Annie Lightsey moved to Indiana twenty years ago. Her areas of focus include mixed media painting, assemblage, and collage art. To her mind, what she paints on the canvas is only half the story; the other half occurs in the dialogue between the painting and the viewer. What someone sees and feels when encountering a piece of art, or the questions that are posed and asked, make the art live and breathe. Drawing inspiration from nature, diverse cultures, social and political context, and universal symbols, Annie’s award winning work focuses on the use of texture and color, often incorporating unusual media to achieve a desired result. Annie’s mixed media work can be found in galleries, corporate offices, state-wide juried shows and art festivals.


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