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Portland nonprofit uses origami to visually represent impact of gun violence in the US

The Soul Box Project's art exhibit in Old Town features 40,000 origami boxes, each one representing a victim of gun violence in the U.S. so far this year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Inside the historic Overland Building in Northwest Portland’s Old Town District, there are thousands of traditional origami boxes made by people from all over the United States.

They're part of the Soul Box Project, nonprofit that uses art to capture the human impact of gun violence in the nation. Each origami box represents one victim. 

“This exhibit that's here in this building is 40,000, which is the number of people killed or injured in the U.S. so far this year," said artist and project founder Leslie Lee.

For Lee, the project is about showing the magnitude of gun violence in the U.S., including homicides, injuries and suicides, which alone make up more than half of all gun-related deaths.

“This is a project that I started in 2017 after the Las Vegas shooting,” said Lee, referring to the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in which 60 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. 

RELATED: Here's what we know about Portland's 2022 homicide victims

Lee started with a website, calling on people to make the boxes for those killed or injured, named and unnamed. It worked.

“They wanted to do something. And so, people responded. And we started getting in these soul boxes.”

The project gathered 200,000 boxes representing three years of U.S. injuries and deaths due to gun violence. 

The current display in Portland covers the damage done by guns so far in 2022. Each box honors a life, and many of them include victims' names. 

“The name of this exhibit is This Loss We Carry, and that's because we as a nation carry this loss,” said Lee.

A young woman named Tricia is carrying the loss of her husband Keion. He was 19 when he was shot and killed in North Portland last December.

“To everyone else, it's like seven months but to me, it's like yesterday. Don't really know how to make sense of it all yet," said Tricia, as she created a soul box.

Making soul boxes is a way to process the pain for people who've lost loved ones in shootings. 

Trica's younger cousin Eli also attended the exhibit in Portland to remember Keion. 

RELATED: 19-year-old shot and killed in Bridgeton neighborhood

“It says I love you Keion from Eli; I chose those words because I love him so much and I think it should just be a loving memory for me and him and everybody who knows my cousin Keion,” the boy said. 

The Soul Box Project is offering time for people to create and build meaning behind these kinds of tragedies, one box at a time. Beyond that, the boxes are a way for people to better understand the impact guns can have. 

“As an artist, I realized that what we needed is a visual for people to understand the extent of how big this epidemic is … and when people are reached on an emotional level, that's when they're prompted to act,” said Lee.

People can see much of the Soul Box Project exhibit through the windows of the Overland Building at 205 NW 4th Ave. People can also go inside on the exhibit’s closing date July 27, or make an appointment via email at info@soulboxproject.org

Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in grief work sessions and build more soul boxes. 

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