When I first saw Parkland High School Massacre survivor Cameron Kasky’s tweet, I thought it was a joke.
In his most recent installation, “Back to School Shopping,” the artist WhIsBe presents the vision of a capitalist hell-scape of a future in which a casual school shopping trip includes stocking up on brass knuckles, handguns, and body armor.
WhIsBe, most known for his work in the street art world, uses Warholian tactics in order to mesh representations of childhood innocence with more sinister notions of greater American violence.
WhIsBe gained international attention for his “Vandal Gummy” series, a project that depicts various gummy bears holding Department of Corrections placards.
The Vandal Gummy series was the artist’s first exploration of the intersection between childhood innocence and larger American violence — up until the opening of “Back to School Shopping.”
This installation, created in partnership with the Starrett Lehigh gallery for their Social Impact Month, paints an incredibly bleak window into the future of the commercialization of mass tragedy.
“I don’t like to tell people what to think,” WhIsBe told Kulture Hub.
Here, WhIsBe makes an adept illustration of this future. Mannequins wear bulletproof vests with ninja turtles, sequins, and Louis Vuitton insignias. Outside, the windows of the Starrett Lehigh gallery space loudly advertise the vests, stating: “Kids & Adults Bulletproof Vests, Available in all sizes, Kids sizes start at 49.99, Adults sizes start at 99.99.”
These prices are coincidentally around the same price as the uncertified “bulletproof backpack inserts” sold by BackPack Armor in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
“Safety defense boxes” — aka children’s lunch pails — are nailed to the walls, each one stocked with a gun, taser, pepper spray, a first aid kit, brass knuckles, and a snack. A claw machine called “Gun Control” encourages kids to take a chance and play for prizes such as handguns and AR-15s.
Littered around the space are WhIsBe’s iconic Vandal Gummies and along one of the far walls, a series of prints depicting Peanuts characters with a similar dystopian context.
One lemonade stand sign reads: “
Psychiatric help Guns & Ammo 5¢” with a bottom text of “The Doctor is MIA.” These pieces deal with larger injustices concerning mental health awareness and lack of background checks as talking points in the gun control debate.
WhIsBe partnered with The Brady Campaign and is donating the proceeds of “Back to School Shopping” to the organization. The Brady Campaign states on their website that they work on both a legislative and community-based level in order to meet their goal of reducing gun violence 25 percent by 2025.
With “Back to School Shopping,” WhIsBe presents his vision of the future without actively pushing his own opinions onto others.
“If you come to the installation and have a strong reaction, you are clearly affected by what is going on,” WhIsBe said.