PICTURED: A few of the sculptures honoring the victims of the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting, on display at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center through Nov. 30, 2021. Photo by Ali Alinejad

by Emily Dodi

Justin Meek, Noel Sparks, Telemachus Nicholas Orfanos, Kristina Morisette, Mark Meza, Daniel Manrique, Alaina Housley, Cody Coffman, Jake Dunham, Blake Dingman, Sean Adler  and Sgt. Ron Helus. 

They were the daughters and sons, friends and loved ones who lost their lives in the tragic shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill on Nov. 7, 2018. Ceramic artist Ali Alinejad, a longtime resident of Thousand Oaks, “has sculpted a vibrant ceramic totem for each victim, stacking the letters of their first names and inscribing each totem with special memories,” explains the city of Thousand Oaks, calling the work “a poignant sculpture series to honor them as individuals.”

On display at Richard and Mary Carpenter Park at Bank of America Performing Arts Center through Nov. 30, each totem stands between 8 and 12 feet tall. They dot a walking path, inviting passersby to pause for a moment of reflection.  

The writing on the back was written with the help of each person’s loved ones. “After the shooting Alinejad sought input from the families . . . to represent who each person was. The families sent letters telling their loved one’s story and Alinejad wrote them in clay on the backside of the letters.”

When the tragedy occurred, Alinejad channeled the emotions he was experiencing in the best way he knew how: through his art. He began by creating two pieces entitled “Peace” and “Love,” which he set on the street corner near the Borderline Bar and Grill.  

When he returned home, he realized that he wanted to do more.  

“It was so hard for me to control my emotions, but I wanted to do something,” Alinejad recalls. He began sculpting their names, building a makeshift studio in his backyard just for the project. “The feeling was so powerful I couldn’t even stop. I couldn’t do my own work for a year. I had to do this.”  

When the totems were completed, Alinejad placed them in front of his house. Their impact was immediate, with some of his neighbors requesting to put one in front of their own house to honor the person they knew. Alinejad himself had a connection to someone who was killed, but it wasn’t until he was creating Noel Sparks’ totem that he realized he had once taught her ceramics. His voice still breaks as he remembers Noel. “She was the sweetest person.” 

As the third anniversary approached, Alinejad reached out to Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña

of Thousand Oaks to see if the totems could have a public exhibition. She agreed and the site in Richard and Mary Carpenter Park was chosen.

“This third anniversary is especially important, because the community couldn’t really hold a remembrance last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The public display of these sculptures is a meaningful way to honor the Borderline families, loved ones and survivors,” explains Bill-de la Peña.

“People stop to take the time to read the stories and take photos,” adds Jonathan Serret, Thousand Oaks cultural affairs director. “It is a reminder to appreciate every day.”

The totems will remain on display in the park until the end of the month, but Alinejad has hopes to find them a forever home. He founded the nonprofit, Art Through Action, “to provide arts services to those with varying abilities and to help find and secure a permanent location for the art installation.”  

Alinejad’s sculptures will be on display through Nov. 30 at Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. On Dec. 8, Art Through Action will be hosting a fundraiser at the Tarantula Hill Brewing Company, 244 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For more information, visit www.artthroughaction.org