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06 May 2017 - 11:19
Chicago: As a police officer patrolling the streets of Chicago, Antoinette Alcazar admits to being overwhelmed at times, needing escape from the everyday tragedies of life in the United States's murder capital.
"I see a lot of people get shot. I've seen a lot of people take their last breath," says Alcazar.
"Walking into my studio, turning on some music and just taking the brush to a canvas helps me process that."
Alcazar is one of 17 serving or recently retired policemen and women whose work is on display at a new exhibition in Chicago -- a city where more than 1,000 people have been shot this year alone and around 200 murdered.
Officers are witness to some of the city's worst violence, the first at crime scenes and often responsible for breaking terrible news to victims' loved ones.
Some of the art on display in the city's first exhibition of police officers' works provides a stark illustration of how that shocking violence affects officers.
Entitled "Dimensions: An Exploration of Artistic Expression of Chicago Police Officers," the exhibition features 56 artworks, including photography, paintings, charcoal drawings and steel sculptures.
Alcazar had five paintings on display, including one called "Overwhelmed," in which a woman painted in blue is sitting curled in an upright fetal position, the world around her depicted in dark reds and bright gold.
"I was trying to depict the intensity of that emotion of being overwhelmed," Alcazar told AFP, tears welling up in her eyes.
So many officers wanted to display their work that organizers had to turn some away due to a lack of space in the exhibition venue, normally a police meeting room.
Sean Loughran, the commander of the department's 20th District who was the brains behind the project, hoped it would show that police are more than just men and women in uniform.
- Stress relief -
"My hope is the public sees that there is additional dimensions of police officers as conveyed here," said Loughran, who has several of his own photos of a nearby fire department on display.
"Being creative is definitely a stress relief for me," said Loughran, a 20-year veteran of the department.
Initially scheduled to last just one day, the exhibit was extended for an entire week due to the high level of interest.
It is part of a continuing effort by police to improve relations with the communities they serve, especially after the release of a video in late 2015 depicting a white Chicago police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager 16 times.
Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with murder for the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. A resulting federal civil rights probe of the department under the Obama administration found a pattern of abuse and routine use of excessive force.
Sandy Walter, who has served in the force for 24 years, hoped the exhibition would help change the public's perceptions for the better.
"We're not just what you see on the news. We're not just what people assume," she said. "There is more to us. There's creativity."