GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spinning and floating in the breeze, thousands of pieces of paper tied to clear lines grace the trees outside the building that hosts the Lake Effect Church and Sudanese Grace Episcopal Church in northwest Grand Rapids.
They are weathergrams, a Japanese form of art that typically features haikus on paper left to weather outside. Instead of poetry, these paper strips feature the names of people who died from COVID-19 or suicide during the pandemic.
Artist Donna Kemper came up with the idea for the installation and did the calligraphy for many of the weathergrams herself.
“Social media has been so toxic, and there have been so many people who have denied that there is even a pandemic. There have just been so many unkind things posted,” she said. “I just spent time in prayer and said, ‘What can I do?’”
Kemper wanted to represent each person who has died from COVID-19 and came up with the idea of the weathergrams.
“People say you’ll get over grief, but you don’t. It changes and it weathers, but it will always be with you. The concept was to remember each person lost because they represent a family, friends, a community. Our nation is grieving and hasn’t really had a chance to address that.”
Kemper still has people calling her, asking if the installation is up because they want to add names to it. Other artists have submitted many of the strips of paper as well.
The U.S. reached the milestone earlier this year of a million deaths due to COVID-19. Although Kemper does not have a million pieces of paper, she does have nearly 2,000.
“To see it actually up and twirling in the wind, it’s even better than I imagined. I’m hoping that people will reconsider the idea that this hasn’t been a big deal that visually seeing each piece of paper will affect people by seeing something more visual, rather than just statistics and numbers.”
Jack Systema is the pastor at Lake Effect Church and helped Kemper install the strings of paper outside. His congregations share the building with the Sudanese Grace Episcopal Church congregation.
The Rev. Zacharia Char leads that church and has also supported the project.
“I feel this is really good. This can be a special prayer that can involve everybody to walk around and have a moment of silence or a moment of prayer about someone we lost. The million people that we lost here in America,” said Char.
The installation is outside the church building at 1550 Oswego St. NW in Grand Rapids.
Kemper and the pastors will hold a prayer service to dedicate the installation at 6 p.m. Wednesday. It is open to the public.