“Soldiers Turned Artists” Explores the Consequences of War
In a powerful group show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, veterans use art to express the impacts of combat
“How we forget, that is where the suffering and death is,” says visual artist and Iraq war veteran Ash Kyrie. “As we move away from the event, critical information is being lost, slowly but surely.” In a painful and poignant new show, “Art and Other Tactics: Contemporary Craft by Artist Veterans,” which opened Saturday at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, U.S. military vets from the last 60 years of conflicts seek to remind us of the consequences of war.
Curated by Emily Zaiden of the Craft in America Study Center, this group show brings together a broad range of artists and artworks, from paintings to sculpture to works such as Kyrie’s wall-sized digital photograph. The heavily pixilated image features a young, injured Afghani girl, and is rather messily attached to the wall: the mess is quickly explained, when Kyrie urges viewers to rip bits of the photo off the wall. “Rip it off,” he says. “That’s where the art is!”
The exhibit also hosts well-known names, such as Gulf War vet and potter Ehren Tool, whose war-themed cups have become collector’s items, and newer artists, such as Judas Recendez, who lost both legs in Iraq and now creates using a potter’s wheel adapted for use with a hand pump. Recendez’s “Large Vase,” which is glazed in red iron oxide, inevitably reminds viewers of blood. And so the show not only draws attention to the intersection of war and art, but also to the ways that war affects makers of art.
The most arresting pieces in the show were not, perhaps, the most violent or the most direct: “War Pigs,” for example, a repetitive ceramic sculpture by Giuseppe Pellicano, which shows a row of pig heads adorned with machine gun bullet chains, feels a bit too blunt. But Robin Shores’ sculptures, “Queen Mary Crossing the Desert” and “She Thought She Was the Pharaoh,” both of which are intended to critique now-imprisoned Lynndie England, are wrenching, allusive, and subtly provocative.
“Queen Mary,” which is about 12 inches long, comprises a kind of long boat or canoe, with five little scrub trees for passengers. The sculpture alludes not only to the luxury liner the Queen Mary, but also to Elizabeth I, gliding down the Thames, flanked by courtiers. “She Thought She was the Pharaoh” portrays two figures in a chariot: one, perhaps Cleopatra, stands, holdings reins and chains, while the other grovels, attacked by a dog. The neo-imperialist nature of the Abu Graib incident is made clear in Shores’ work, as well as the historical context for England’s crimes. While Shores’ pieces are small in size, they are among the most powerful works in the show.
Don’t miss Pam DeLuco’s “Paper Dolls,” a graphic work of text and image, which draws upon the experiences of women who have served. DeLuco collected and recorded the experiences of women across many generations and different branches of the military, focusing on female military apparel and appearance. Each woman tells her story, such as the story of a marine being handed a lipstick by her drill instructor, who snapped, “Fix yourself, recruit. But try not to look slutty.” DeLuco teamed up with illustrator Annemaree Rea, who created a paper doll to accompany each participant’s tale. The stories are spare and poetic, and the paper dolls are both delicate and tough.
There is no question that the losses, stresses, and pains of war are reflected in the crafts and artworks contained in “Art and Other Tactics.” “Sacrifice is the most heavily mediated thing that we see,” Ash Kyrie asserts. Be certain that you take the time to honor the sacrifices made by these soldier-makers.
Art and Other Tactics: Contemporary Craft by Artist Veterans will be on exhibit at CAFAM until September 6