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    Art students memorialize Gaza conflict casaulties

    Cooper+Temple+%2F+The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0Aworks+on+a+design+project+at+the+UA+College+of+Architecture%2C+Planning%2C+and+Landscape+Architecture+on+Tuesday.
    Cooper Temple / The Daily Wildca
    Cooper Temple / The Daily Wildcat works on a design project at the UA College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture on Tuesday.

    Over 2,000 civilians in Gaza have died as a result of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, a fact that continues to be ignored, but not for long.

    Two senior art students at the UA are creating a memorial for the Gaza residents, who have lost their lives during the conflict wreaking havoc on their homeland. For every Gaza civilian death, there will be one white stick standing up in the ground on the UA Mall in front of Old Main. The artists, Braelyn Smith, a photography senior, and Lester Aguirre, a visual communications senior, will be installing the art on Thursday, and it will remain on display for one day only.

    The idea for the memorial began as an art assignment. The artists are both enrolled in James Cook’s Extended Media: Combining Media and Installation course and were presented with a project on repetition.

    “It is a collaborative project with the themes of repetition, obsession, modular processing and the like,” said Cook, an associate professor in the School of Art. “Repetition is how we engage a lot of which is in our daily lives.”

    Smith and Aguirre took the broad scope of their assignment and ran with it, at first discussing the deaths of Mexican immigrants and then moving to the more immediate issue of Gaza civilian casualties.

    The conflict in Gaza has been raging on for months now. Air strikes are hitting refugee safe areas, the political situation is confusing and the majority of the nation is in turmoil. Those outside of the situation are choosing sides and forming their own political opinions on the conflict, while the effect on the civilian population in Gaza is going widely unnoticed.

    “Whenever civilians are dying, I think it’s wrong,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, I’m a human, and I care about other humans.”

    The artists want to bring to light the large amount of citizen deaths, while also keeping the tribute simple and meaningful. Having each white stick represent a civilian casualty provides individuality to each victim but also allows a viewer to see the big picture. Smith and Aguirre chose to paint the sticks white to symbolize the innocence of the civilians and to promote peace.

    Besides creating and displaying the artwork, the artists also wanted to provide viewers with information on the story behind the sticks while maintaining the simplicity of the memorial. Alongside the white sticks will be small flags with whatarethewhitesticks.com printed on them, which will direct viewers to the other part of the artists’ project: a website giving information on all sides of the story through articles, videos, photographs and firsthand accounts.

    Smith and Aguirre said their main goal is to raise awareness of the issue and allow people to come to their own conclusions on the Gaza conflict.

    “People think we’re trying to make this grand political statement, but we’re just trying to show that people are dying,” Smith said. “We’re just artists; we’re not politicians.”

    Despite their neutral political viewpoint, the artists have already been receiving some strong feedback on their artwork even before its debut. Some visitors to their website have left harsh comments and threatened to protest their exhibit, while others are thanking them for honoring those who lost their lives. Threats of protestors prompted Smith and Aguirre to notify the University of Arizona Police Department of the memorial debut to ensure that nothing will go wrong.

    When asked what he believed would be the reaction to the memorial debut on Thursday, Cook responded, “I have no idea. I hope it will provoke thinking about what conflict is and what war is and how there are always innocent victims.”

    The artists said they hope for similar reactions but are unsure of what, if anything, will occur.

    “This is not the first time that installations of artwork have been controversial,” Aguirre said, “and I think it’s going to help that the installation isn’t too obvious.” Their only goal is to draw attention to an issue affecting the world today and make people think about it.

    “We’re giving them the information and letting them do with it whatever they want,” Smith said. “It’s like a call to action, but without telling them what to do.”

    —Follow Victoria Pereira @DailyWildcat
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    Editor’s Note:

    The construction of the memorial has been post-poned due to problematic weather conditions. The date of its erection on the University of Arizona mall has yet to be determined.

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