The National Veterans Art Museum is proud to announce Artifacts, our upcoming exhibition that explores the material and speculative objects that hold personal, cultural, and political import for those directly and indirectly impacted by war.
The exhibition features The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by internationally celebrated artist Michael Rakowitz; Exit Wounds and What We Carried by the award winning photographer Jim Lommasson; Battle Beyond the Battlefield by former Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellow and veteran artist Alicia Dietz; Sum of My Father by former de Young Fine Arts Museum Resident and veteran artist Rodney Ewing; The Shrapnel Project by Purple Heart recipient and artist Phillip Schladweiler; and the award winning Combat Paper by veteran artist Drew Cameron.
Bringing together photography, sculpture, and installation, the artworks in Artifacts serve to expand the definition of “artifact” and examine the ways in which collected objects hold meaning and significance for people, societies, and history impacted by war.
NVAM Executive Director Brendan Foster states, “Artifacts is a powerful exhibit providing a unique artistic approach that combines both veteran and civilian perspectives about the effects of war on veterans, refugees, families, and communities. This new exhibition will offer the viewer an opportunity to experience and understand the broader context of the impact of combat.”
Curator, artist and veteran, Aaron Hughes adds, “This exhibition highlights seemingly mundane objects–from snapshots to eyeglasses to packaging to a G.I. Joe doll–that actually help connect us to the profound effects of war and each other. This is an exhibition that examines those objects that hold the material legacy of war. It perhaps reveals how we imbue certain objects with meaning beyond their intended use.”
The opening reception will be Saturday, May 19th from 4p.m - 7p.m. and will feature brief statements from the artists and curator.
The exhibit will be on display from Saturday, May 19th through Saturday, September 22nd in the main galleries of the National Veterans Art Museum.
Featured Artists & Artworks
Alicia Dietz is a veteran, artist, and furniture builder whose military-inspired work attempts to stretch the idea of what is commonly understood to be a soldier. Her work questions expectations and engages in critical discussions with the public. She has been recognized for her excellence in woodworking and craft and featured in American Craft Magazine. In 2015, she was a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Fellow and was added to the Wall of Fame at the Vermont Woodworking School. She served in Iraq and has been stationed all over the world, including Germany, Alaska, and Egypt.
Artifacts features Dietz’s installation work Battle Beyond the Battlefield that pulls from military uniforms and civilian attire as it highlights the different kinds of battles veterans face. Alicia writes, “ For many veterans, the battle does not end once they come home. Some battles are physical. Some are mental. Some are emotional."
Rodney Ewing is a veteran and artist living in San Francisco. His drawings, installations, and mixed media works focus on his need to intersect body and place, memory and fact, to re-examine human histories, cultural conditions, and events. Rodney has been awarded residencies at the deYoung Fine Arts Museum in 2015 and Recology in 2017. Artifacts features Ewing’s Sum of My Father installation and selections from his Untethered series.
Sum of My Father consists of twenty Army green blankets folded with military precision as a tribute to Ewing’s father, who fought in Vietnam and served twenty years in the Air Force. Rodney said that he folded the blankets in the same way the American flag that his mother now has for his father is folded.
The Untethered series focuses on images from the early to mid 20th-century, when the Fillmore District of San Francisco was a Japanese neighborhood, through the Japanese Internment during World War II. As the Japanese left, the area became a thriving African American neighborhood and musical epicenter known as Harlem of the West— ultimately terminating with the Redevelopment Period that displaced the entire community and destroyed thousands of San Francisco’s oldest homes. This body of work is an investigation into local history, racism, displacement, and destruction of community. Rodney writes, “Place is more than just a geographic reference point, it holds our memories, establishes our identities, and is the foundation for our future. Without a person’s ability to establish roots, they become bystanders of their own existence. The concepts of departure, wandering, and disappearance have been part of African American culture since the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. What happens if all physical trace of your ancestors has been removed? What do you call home?”
Jim Lommasson is a freelance photographer and author living in Portland, Oregon. Lommasson received the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for his first book, Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice and The Will To Survive In American Boxing Gyms. Artifacts features two seminal works by Lommasson Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories–Life after Iraq and Afghanistan and What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization.
In Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories–Life after Iraq and Afghanistan, Lommasson has combined portraits of American veterans after they returned home from military service with excerpts from the artist’s interviews with each veteran, as well as smaller snapshots that the veteran took while overseas. These snapshots help to form a more complete picture of each veteran’s experience abroad and subsequent reintegration into everyday life. Lommasson’s commitment to this project is reflected in his belief that "... soldiers need to tell their stories, and we need to hear them. We must know the true consequences of their–of our–actions.”
**During the exhibition veterans are invited to bring 4x6-inch snapshots from their deployment to add to the installation.
What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization reveals the stories of refugees fleeing the Iraq War through the objects they brought with them to the United States. Lommasson photographs these precious items—family snapshots, an archaeology book, heirloom china dishes, the Quran—on a white background, asking their owners to write directly within the open space left in the prints and elaborate upon each object’s significance. The resulting images are as beautiful as they are heartbreaking, providing viewers with only a small glimpse of what each person has lost while serving as a poignant reminder that, as Jim asserts, "we must take responsibility for the aftermath of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as at home." The Arab American National Museum is currently traveling the What We Carried exhibition around America.
Michael Rakowitz is an internationally celebrated Chicago based Iraqi-American artist. His work explores recent contested social, political, and cultural histories. Drawing on personal experiences and research on these subjects, as well as history and popular culture, Rakowitz creates illustrated objects, installations, and performances that invite viewers to contemplate their complicit relationship to the political world around them, recognizing that hospitality and hostility are interlinked. He recently had his first survey show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Artifacts features one of Rakowitz’s most celebrated projects, The invisible enemy should not exist ,and one of his newest projects, The Ballad of Special Ops Cody.
The invisible enemy should not exist is an intricate narrative about the artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad, in the aftermath of the US invasion of April 2003; the current status of their whereabouts; and the series of events surrounding the invasion, the plundering and related protagonists. The centerpiece of the project is an ongoing series of sculptures that represents an attempt to reconstruct the looted archaeological artifacts.
The title of the work takes its name from the direct translation of Aj-ibur-shapu, the ancient Babylonian processional way that ran through the Ishtar Gate. Drawings tell the story of how the gate was excavated in Iraq in 1902-14 by German archaeologist Robert Koldewey and then put on permanent exhibition at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. In the 1950s, the Iraqi government rebuilt the gate; close by stands a reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon, created by Saddam Hussein as a monument to his own sovereignty. Today the reconstructed Ishtar Gate is the site most frequently photographed and posted on the Internet by US servicemen stationed in Iraq.
Alluding to the implied invisibility of the museum artifacts—initial reports about their looting were inflated due to the “fog of war,” stated Museum officials—the reconstructions are made from the packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs and local Arabic newspapers, moments of cultural visibility found in cities across the United States. The objects were created together with a team of assistants using the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute database, as well as information posted on Interpol’s website. This exhibition represents the incipient stage of an ongoing commitment to recuperate the over 7,000 objects that remain missing.
The Ballad of Special Ops Cody is a stop-motion video commissioned by the MCA. The video features the same Special Ops Cody GI Joe doll used in a hostage hoax in 2005, when a group of Iraqi insurgents published pictures online of the Special Ops Cody GI Joe doll tied up and threatened to behead him. The U.S. military at first believed the hoax was real and began searching for the missing soldier. In the video Special Ops Cody attempts to free ancient Sumerian votive figures trapped in a vitrine at the Oriental Institute, but instead, like the votives, Special Ops Cody finds himself trapped in the vitrine.
Phillip Schladweiler is a veteran, Purple Heart recipient, photographer, and the creator of The Shrapnel Project. In 2006 he was wounded in Ramadi, Iraq while serving with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry. After being medically discharged for wounds received in combat he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where in the summer of 2012 he began photographing the first images for the project. Phillip is currently seeking his Masters of Applied Psychology. Artifacts will feature Schladweiler’s formative work The Shrapnel Project a photographic series examining the shrapnel that changed his and others lives. The Shrapnel Project is now a part of the NVAM permanent collection.