On Wednesday, there will be 268 shiny silver faces glinting in the sun near the steps of City Hall. The cluster of palm-sized, mirrored faces may be eerily beautiful, but they are the bearers of bad news. Each of them represents a 2022 New Orleans murder victim.
For eight years, artist Mitchell Gaudet has created a similar sculpture that records the murder tally in New Orleans. At the start of each new year, he selects a day to place the sculpture on the sidewalk at 1300 Perdido Street, where municipal officials and other passersby are confronted with a symbol of the violence that’s an unfortunate part of the city’s character.
It’s a memorial to the lives lost and a quiet protest. “You’re supposed to see yourself in the faces,” Gaudet said of the reflective display.
In past years, Gaudet has symbolized the victims with crying babies, broken columns, drops of blood, falling leaves, birds, hands, and bull’s-eye targets, all cast in fragile glass. This year, he said, he added wooden prayer beads to the glass elements.
There were 265 homicides recorded by the end of 2022, which made New Orleans the current murder capital of the country. The number was up 20 percent from the year before. Gaudet hadn’t anticipated that much of an increase.
He ran out of room for all the silver faces to fit the sculpture’s frame, so he’s laying 33 of them on the pavement at the base of the sculpture amidst a tangle of beads.
There’s always some confusion that delays the final count. At the start of 2023, three homicide victims were discovered in a house in Gentilly. But the condition of the corpses suggested they’d died in 2022, so Gaudet added three more last-minute glass faces to the display.
There’s something ritualistic about it all. Gaudet usually includes the names of the victims on the sculpture, with their ages. But that requires research and this year, he said, he ran out of time before compiling all the names of the victims. He’ll attach them later.
Gaudet is 60. He was born in the 9th Ward, grew up in New Orleans East and attended Holy Cross High School. Three years ago, he moved to Mississippi. First to the coast, then farther north, in the country.
He said he didn’t move away from New Orleans because he feared the mayhem, “but it made it easier.”
Crime was always part of the picture, he said. During the recent epidemic of car break-ins, Gaudet said that he and his wife agreed they were happy they didn’t have to worry about that sort of thing anymore.
Artist Mitchell Gaudet talks with Su Van Exel in front of a sculpture Gaudet erected at City Hall in New Orleans on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)