Veterans Bring the War Home

By Fruzsina Eördögh

The other day while walking to Lincoln Square, I couldn’t help but notice the newly placed political street art on boarded storefronts. A closer inspection of these paste-ups revealed the url IVAW.org, so naturally I went home to see what google could tell me. I was surprised, and a little heartbroken, to find absolutely no mainstream coverage of National Veterans Art Museum’s  November initiative “Chicago in War”, or their  participating organizations  Iraq Veterans Against the War and Just Seeds Artists Cooperative.

The Operation Exposure paste-ups showing up around town are a collaboration between Just Seeds and Iraq Veterans Against the War and are meant to accompany an exhibit at the Mess Hall.  The IVAW website states “Chicago in War” is a series of events, art exhibits, and performances designed to foster conversation between veterans and civilians.

Over a brief phone conversation, veteran and artist Aaron Hughes explained Operation Exposure as a way of “getting the word out on the street” and “what better way to change the landscape than by putting up stories of soldiers”.

A close-up of the paper plaque on the right, featuring 29 year old Rodney Watson, can be viewed here. Additional photos of Operation Exposure can be found on flickr at the Just Seeds flickr set here, and  here.

Besides Operation Exposure, Aaron Hughes has curated a show titled “Intrusive Thoughts” at the National Veterans Art Museum, on display until May 2011.  After Aaron Hughes’ first exhibit in 2006 at the then called National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, Hughes eventually went on to chair the museum’s art committee. “Intrusive Thoughts” is the first exhibit at the newly named National Veterans Art Museum and took Hughes about six months to curate.

In a recent e-mail exchange, Aaron Hughes described “Intrusive Thoughts”  as “unwelcome involuntary thoughts, images or ideas that may become obsessions, or are distressing and difficult to manage or eliminate. In the midst of a GI and Veteran suicide epidemic it is vital that our society stops repressing the traumas of war, and instead begins to acknowledge the impact they have on our society”.

From the the Chicago Journal’s coverage of the ‘Intrusive Thoughts” exhibit:

Unsatisfied with media coverage seen throughout the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Global War on Terror and the lack of national conversation, Hughes would feel some satisfaction if “Intrusive Thoughts” startled people and sent them on their way with a whole new list of questions about a defense establishment with a suicide rate higher than the combat death rate.

via Greg Skinner’s A New Class of Veterans Has Their Say about War

…and an additional article on IVAW’s efforts and the exhibit “Intrusive Thoughts”, from CommonDreams.org, reposted on IVAW.org:

The exhibition seizes on the unique power of art as a story-telling medium capable of saying what cannot otherwise be said. Citing a political climate of silence surrounding veterans and the war, Hughes argues, “We know we’re at war, but we can’t talk about it. This show is about bringing those repressed traumas to the surface, about putting the disconnects of our society in context.” To this end, he invited artist veterans to create work for the show, and sought the participation of Warrior Writers and the Combat Paper Project, two groups offering creative workshops to veterans.

via Austin McCann’s “Traumas of War in Everyday America”



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