The Dead and Public Obligation, Grief, and Action: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Impact of Invoking the Dead in Public Art
Humans have a natural instinct to grieve the deaths of loved ones. In the 21st century, information immediacy has facilitated a shift in this grieving process. Private grief is becoming more present in the public sphere. Using Craig Rood’s 2018 framework, the warrant of the dead, this essay aims to analyze this shift; specifically, this essay utilizes Maureen Cain’s 2019 art project The United States of Ammunition as a case study in private grief in the public sphere. Rood (2018) theorizes the warrant of the dead utilizes the memory of victims to force action of the audience members; however, this framework suffers from fleeting engagement. The warrant of the dead framework was initially used to discuss the gun control rhetoric of President Barack Obama after mass shootings during his presidency. This essay expands upon that discussion in the realm of the visual rhetoric of Cain’s photographs. The intersection of public artworks, memorialization, and counter-monuments offer a rhetorically compelling backdrop for this analysis. At this intersection, we are able to isolate the effects of visual rhetoric—in this case, the photographs of Cain’s project—on the viewer. As it is apparent it is impossible to avoid interacting with or encountering death in our current world, it is necessary we analyze the potential uses of the warrant of the dead. Evoking our dead can be a powerful tool to incite action and change in our communities.