We’ve all heard stories of battles that soldiers have fought on the front lines. But what about the battles they face when they return home?
A new exhibit which goes on display at Drexel University on Oct. 29 features 40 portraits of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans in recovery. The powerful collection of drawings and paintings is part of The Joe Bonham Project, which was founded in 2010 by former U.S. Marine and combat artist Michael D. Fay to document the experiences of wounded service members.
The Project, which has been featured in The New York Times, is named for Joe Bonham, the protagonist of Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 antiwar novel, who loses his limbs and face in an explosion during World War I.
Fay will join Drexel for the exhibit opening on Oct. 29 and a discussion about combat art along with Victor Juhasz, a celebrated civilian illustrator, whose work has appeared in major outlets, ranging from The New York Times to Rolling Stone.
The opening discussion and reception are free and open to the public and will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29 in Geary Auditorium A at the New College Building at Drexel’s College of Medicine (intersection of 15th & Vine Streets). The exhibit will be in the Hahnemann Library at that location through Veterans Day, Nov. 11. For Library hours, click here.
“The exhibit brings home to people that the wars we have been involved in last long beyond the time that the troops leave the battlefield,” said Karen Curry, executive director of the Kal and Lucille Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies, a professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and former producer and bureau chief for CNN and NBC News. “There are so many troops returning with serious injuries and this exhibit tells their stories. The tag line of the exhibit is ‘We are not our wounds’ and I think this is an opportunity for these wounded warriors’ stories to be told and for their legacies to live on.”
But why portraits and not just photos?
“Art provides another way to see the conflicts we are involved in,” said Curry. “Often, news images we see are taken in the heat of the moment. News photographers and television journalists are very much deadline oriented. Art takes the 30,000-foot view, with time to have reflected and interpreted those moment and events.”
The exhibit and discussion are part of a new fall course at Drexel entitled “Imaging War,” which examines how the subject of war has been depicted in the media. The course is offered as part of Drexel’s Great Works Symposium 2013-2014, which is co-sponsored by the Kal and Lucille Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies and the Pennoni Honors College. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Media: Past, Present and Future.”
The course is made up primarily of guest speaker events which are all free and open to the public. There are 30 students in the class, but attendance has doubled that for each class. A full list of guest speakers and details on the course are available here.
Curry, who is co-teaching the course along with visiting professors Elliot Panek and Hana Iverson, believes that understanding war is critical to being a fully engaged citizen. “The United States has been involved in two major wars over the past decade. It is important that we hear from the people involved in those conflicts so that we can understand the impact of those wars from their perspective. War is complex but any understanding of it would be incomplete without hearing from those who have experienced it, either as combatants, civilians or journalists.”
So far, the results of the course have been positive.
“We have seen very dynamic conversation among the students about the issues surrounding war and the ways it is represented,” Curry said. “There have been spirited discussions about how images can be used as propaganda, on the effect of covering war on those who cover it and very importantly, the students have become more aware of the images they are surrounded by today and are developing a more analytical way to view and understand them.”
Students will create a final project – whether a short film, photo essay, website or even a fully researched paper – that tackles one of the issues that they have found compelling in the class. The projects should reflect the students’ abilities to synthesize what they absorbed from the speakers, the readings and screenings and apply that to images of war.
Curry believes that this close examination of the ways war is portrayed is essential.
“Media representations of war can grab the attention of the public and encourage them to further delve into the wars that are being fought,” she said. “It can bring home the high price of war and, in the best cases, capture the complexity of these conflicts, raising questions and fostering examination of the reasons for going to war. However, images can also be manipulated and shown out of context, sometimes with the goal of presenting the enemy in such a way that creates fear and a sense of the enemy as something less than us. It is important to understand the context of the images that we see and be able to interpret them within that context.”