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The War Works Exhibit: A bold look at a misrepresented war

<r Works exhibit, the primary feature at the Carleton Art gallery until Nov. 18, invites the community to reflect and analyze the horrors of war through provocative art created by six artists. With works from former Marines and political activists who have traveled the Middle East, this collection of striking images questions the ideological foundations and ethical implications of war.

In 2004 Laurel Bradley, the Director of Exhibitions at Carleton, invited Iraqi artists at Carleton, whose rich culture of book printing was an asset to the collection here, just as the war broke out. One of these men used to be a soldier for Saddam Hussein and eventually left to live in Jordan and pursue art.

Bradley believes that art about powerful contemporary issues connects very well with an informed and concerned audience at a liberal arts college.

“Art is about life,” she said. “At this point, life in America has a lot to do with war, and I find it exciting that certain artists try to use their art as a way to communicate their experience as soldiers now or during the gulf war, and also reflect on the war since we have so little opportunity to, especially in Northfield, Minnesota.”

From stenciled woodcuts to digitally printed ceramics and sketches, the collection covers a range of media used to portray scenes and faces from wars. The primary focus is on the Iraq war, because although it is now winding down, it serves as a reminder of the painful aftermath of war.

Sandow Birk, of Los Angeles, Calif., created, “Destruction from Depravities of War,” a series of imposing woodcuts depicting scenes of carnage created by American soldiers against the ironic backdrop of looming mosques and houses of worship. One of Birk’s woodcuts also directly references the notorious human rights violations committed by soldiers at Abu Grahib, in a scene where several prisoners kneel before soldiers, faceless and defeated.

Ehren Tool, of Berkeley, Calif., creates porcelain with ceramic decals focused on popular media images to prove a point. One of these ceramic cups features nude, blonde women holding AK-47s, wearing garlands of grenades. Tool uses provocative images like these to question the media’s glamorization of violence. He also depicts media images of soldiers in combat, adding his own text, to make the point that journalism does not always contextualize information.

Daniel Heyman, of Philadelphia, Pa., has caricatured portraits of Iraqis in courts of law by attending war trials and incorporating their verbal transcripts into his artwork. These stories shed light on how American soldiers raided their homes and raped their children, with some of the text delivering direct quotes from these perpetrators, who used harsh threats such as, “Fuck you- I’ll kill you.” Heyman’s paintings are deeply influenced by his work in Jordan and Turkey, where he met these men, whose stories come alive from the faces he paints.

Megan Vossler, of Minneapolis, Minn., has created three large works of graphite on matboard whose scenes are concentrated on one part of the board, leaving the rest of the expanse serenely blank; she does so to communicate the message that war images need careful thought and should not be confused in a mess of ugly and incomprehensible images. Vossler has painted and titled her work, “Patrol, Refugees and Rubble,” and the stark, black images set against the expansive background cause a disarming visual effect.

Drew Mattot, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Drew Cameron, of Burlington, Vt., have collaborated on the Combat Paper Project. This is a series of letters with images and text featuring a man who seems to morph in each letter and strip of his clothes, always prefaced by the words, “You are not my enemy.” The mixed media they use adds a textured effect to the works.

John Risseeuw, of Tempe, Ariz., has experimented with letterpress, polymer relief and woodcuts on handmade paper. He has focused on the symbolic value of tangible objects in war and created his art from landmine survivors and currencies of nations whose money is channeled into these explosives.

This exhibition’s works have been well received by students, many of whom populated the opening of the exhibition on Oct. 22. The War Works Exhibit is currently open to the Northfield community at large and will travel next to Worcester College, Ohio. While the artworks are not for sale through the college, Bradley can arrange prospective buyers to get in touch with the artists themselves and buy them directly.

Bradley believes that contemporary art that is bold about analyzing politics is essential to this generation and is especially relevant at a school like Carleton. After all, “Art is visual and this is a necessary feature to our society today, since we only consumes verbal media and never analyze the images we see,” she said. “Artists help us process this visual aspect and develop our critical skill to images, just like we do towards words. It can only serve to heighten the level of discourse.”

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