A new class of veterans has their say about war

Intrusive thoughts

11/10/2010 10:00 PM


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Photos by GREG SKINNER/Staff

There is a reason warriors returning home have throughout history kept to the edges of their society. For some, thoughts and memories of things done and seen on the battlefield confuse the comparably mundane existence of everyday.

If “Intrusive Thoughts” had its way, you would go home bearing the full burden and emotional drain of an American soldier’s first kill. Or seeking answers to the befuddlements of trying to explain to the world around you that you are a bona fide combat veteran inside the body of a petite woman.

Opening today, “Intrusive Thoughts” is part of War in Chicago, a month-long exploration into the traumas of war in everyday America and is a project of the National Veterans Art Museum.

In its bones, the show supports a simple point proving that its title is a fair representation of the work. With varied media such as large print photographs, the written word, dioramas and prints made on paper pressed from combat uniforms, a message runs throughout — that some sights seen on the battlefield cause lasting psychological trauma.

The collection of 35 pieces, some with a heavily veiled messages, attempt to challenge a society stuck worshiping the Greatest Generation and World War II two days each year during patriotic festivals that supplant a deeper reflection sought by many veterans.

Artist Ash Kyrie’s prints combine iconic and benign imagery from the wars’ portrayal throughout the mainstream U.S. media into larger questions of the wars’ value. Erica Sloan’s poignant installation hides her war stories behind two closed doors. Out front, a pair of red high heels is left to be consumed as the stereotype of post-combat world.

According to show curator Aaron Hughes, Chicago has hidden its head in the sand when it comes to the toll that the post-911 wars have had the human condition of a next generation.

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.

“This society has disregarded the issue entirely,” Hughes said. “This is not dinner table conversation.”

The subtext of the show expresses the former soldiers’ collective realities into one finely extruded point, and one on which every combat veteran will agree, that the citizen layman can never fully understand the insanity of the battlefields these men and women were called to.

Contact: gskinner@chicagojournal.com

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