Violent Histories

McKees Rocks, PA, a few minutes outside the city of Pittsburgh, has a harrowing past led by the politician James J. Westwood. His menacing time in the area begins in the late 1890s’ when he discovered a skull on top of the ancient burial mound in the area and decided to kick it into the Ohio river. Later, he began his career in crime. Starting with the “mysterious” death of his daughter by gunshot as he found her lying in the fetal position. Then came his role in the bombing of another man in the area running against him, defrauding the community, and various election crimes. This all led to his final act of violence, the murder of his wife Martha, as he stole up his back staircase and shot her three times through the window. This is a story of corruption, greed, power, suppression, and violence fueled by the desire for control. 


Through images, archival photographs, text from the story of The Promised Land in the bible and newspaper articles recounting Westwood’s narrative, Violent Histories depicts a modern landscape of McKees Rocks, PA and retells the life of Westwood and his crimes. A new American history can also be untwisted. Filled with a truth that America would rather not admit as layers are peeled back and contradict the celebratory and “imagined” versions of America that are central to the façade America hides behind. 


Like Westwood’s time in McKees Rocks, the same corruption, greed, and hunger for power by any means necessary can be seen in American history. Only this is disguised through romantic notions of overcoming adversity and hardships, and the idolization of colonizers. From Columbus to the Pilgrims and Puritans, their stories are wrapped up in the same themes as Westwood’s life. Charged by greed and under the name of God, justification is created for genocidal violence and othering. Inaccurate narratives paint these colonizers as heroes and worthy of worship, when their only form of power is through means of terror and exploitation, not “hard work” or determination. 

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