'Art of Peace': Confiscated Guns Transformed in Oakland Art Exhibition

The material in a new pop-up art gallery in downtown Oakland is heavy -- with exhibits built from steel and wood from over 700 confiscated and dismantled guns. The "Art of Peace" exhibition, a collaboration between the Alameda County District Attorney's Office and the Robby Poblete Foundation, debuted Wednesday as part of an effort to end gun violence.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said she hopes the project can spark dialogue about big issues, like school shootings, including the 2012 shooting at Oikos University in Oakland that left seven dead.

Alameda County District Attorney's Office inspector Joe McNiff admires a bike repurposed from the agency's confiscated firearms.

"We had 2,136 (firearms) just since 2012 to 2016 that were used in crimes in Alameda County on cases that were prosecuted," O'Malley said. "Of those, almost 100 were assault weapons. So we know we have a flow of guns in this county that needs to stop."

O'Malley said that in the past her office incinerated confiscated firearms, but it decided instead to make both an environmental and social statement with the help of journalist Pati Navalta Poblete.

Poblete said she was inspired to create "Art of Peace" after having lost her 23-year-old son, Robby, to a shooting in 2014. For two years after the shooting, Poblete said she couldn't get out of bed due to her grief. But eventually she decided to dedicate herself to reducing gun violence. As executive director of the Robby Poblete Foundation, she's collaborating with the DA's office on the exhibition.

"Holding On" by Rebecca Anders at the Art for Peace exhibit in Oakland in 2018

"I didn't want the message to be about confiscation and destruction," Poblete said. "I wanted it to be about transformation and awareness and hope and inspiration, because we need that. And art is the perfect medium to change the heart, and with that, to change the mind."

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Natasha McCray-Zolp is one of six local artists that the Alameda County District Attorney's Office commissioned to repurpose confiscated firearms.

McCray-Zolp recalled the moment when she prepared to paint the cheery little bicycle she created with her husband, Shameel Ali. The bike features handgun pedals and a shell-casing seat arranged as a peace sign.

"Wave of Gun Violence" by Darrell Hunger at Art for Peace exhibit in Oakland in 2018.

"It dawned on me that I was looking down two double barrel shotguns, and I thought, you know, these quite possibly could have been pointed at somebody in this way before," McCray-Zolp said.

Artist Darrell Hunger created a wave shape out of wooden firearm stocks, dotted with red-painted shell casings. Hunger said the natural form seemed appropriate, as "a pulse of energy that creates chaos," but also symbolizes change.

"Art of Peace" will run at 471B 9th St. in Oakland on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons from 12-4 p.m. through June 13. The artwork will be auctioned off in mid-June, with the proceeds going toward stipends for next year's group of artists.