A D.C. artist makes bells from guns as a statement against mass shootings At a time when mass shootings are regularly rocking the country, Stephanie Mercedes is takes guns and bullet casings and turns them into instruments of mourning. Some look like primitive relics.

Melting guns and bullet casings, this artist turns weapons into bells

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Last night, Americans learned of yet another mass shooting, this time at Michigan State University. Police say a gunman shot and killed three people and injured five others before taking his own life. The attack in Michigan is one of nearly 70 mass shootings that have occurred in the United States since the start of 2023. Stephanie Mercedes, an artist based in Washington, D.C., responds to the violence by turning guns into instruments of mourning. NPR's Neda Ulaby visited her current exhibit at a D.C. gallery.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The sculptor stands in sweatpants inside an old graffiti church, now an art gallery.

STEPHANIE MERCEDES: I'm Mercedes. I am a D.C.-based queer Latinx artist. I melt down weapons and transform them into musical installations and musical instruments.


ULABY: Most of those instruments are bells.

MERCEDES: Bells cast out of melted bullets and small sections of guns, including triggers.

ULABY: They are, she says, instruments of mourning. They cleanse. They knell.

MERCEDES: I decided to work with weapons because - well, really because of the Orlando Pulse Club shooting because I'm gay, I'm Latina, and I easily could have been there.

ULABY: Most of us, Mercedes points out, could be anywhere a mass shooting happens. Part of her work involves recording the sounds of weapons melting in her furnace. They become soundscapes for her shows.


MERCEDES: Guns are normally a combination of galvanized steel and aluminum. So I have to cut those parts down and then melt them at different temperatures or through different casting processes. As casters, we wear these big leather kind of aprons, and we're completely covered in leather gear because molten metal is very dangerous for your body. But there's something incredibly meditative about that process because in that moment, you're holding this strange, transformed liquid metal. And you only have a few seconds to, like, pour it into a shape that truly it wants to become.

ULABY: Many of Mercedes bells are not beautiful. Some look like the weapons they used to be. Others are small, twisted, jagged bells that look like primitive relics. That's something, the artist, says she hopes all guns will one day be.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


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