By Fanny Garcia
This photo essay is based on the National Veterans Art Museum (NVAM) Veteran Art Summit, held in Chicago May 3 - 5, 2019. As part of the inaugural NVAM Triennial, the Summit brought some fifty veteran artists from around the country together to share artwork, ideas, participate in hands-on workshops, and celebrate the growing community.
A performance by Joseph Lefthand, Nicole Goodwin, and Kiam Marcelo Junio kicked off the National Veterans Art Museum’s Veteran Art Summit, a weekend of events and workshops. On the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, sheer white curtains hung high from the ceiling. The silhouette of a topless female figure (Goodwin) was visible through the curtains. Her body rolled on the floor, swaying back and forth like a baby in a crib. The sound of her voice played in the distance, echoing off the marble walls, filling the large room. The audience curiously viewed the exhibit, walking around the translucent structure.
On the first night of the Veteran Art Summit, the National Veterans Art Museum hosted an opening reception for Open/Closed, curated by Amber Hoy. The gallery presented the work of several veteran artists. Displays included sculptures, paintings, objects, photographs, and writings. People took turns looking through a View-Master, which included photographs of a mysterious window, taken by the author.
Six military-issued, olive drab canvas bags full of uniforms were piled in Chicago Cultural Center’s Garland Gallery. A table crafted by Alicia Dietz was at the room’s center. Nearby sat a Hollander beater, which would be used to turn pieces of fabric from the military uniforms into pulp for papermaking. Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal, Dietz, and Drew Cameron (founder of Combat Paper) hosted a public workshop, inviting people to sit at the table and cut up uniforms. Participants began the process of converting camouflage into Combat Paper, removing all seams, buttons and zippers and cutting the material into small pieces.
The more one looks at Yeon J. Yue’s images, the more a narrative starts to unfold. In the far distance of this image a portrait of a young male marine sits on top of a shelf next to a large brown sculpture. Religious sculptures hang above and beneath. A book shelf is stocked with the works of author Sandra Brown, doves, and a panda drawing. The depiction elicits the home life of either a military family member, a spouse, veteran, or perhaps the service member himself. Yue brings us into an intimate space by capturing the trials of the family that lives in this home.
Lovella Calica (founder and director of Warriors Warriors) and Brendan Foster (director of the National Veterans Art Museum) welcomed the audience to NVAM. Calica hosted the open mic, which featured many veteran poets.
Jeff Key, former Marine, Iraq War veteran, peace activist, and queer civil rights activist, performs his writing during the open mic poetry reading hosted by Warrior Writers.
On Sunday morning, the last day of the Summit, Carlos Sirah led the final workshop and a “story circle” closing discussion.
Summit participants gathered in a circle and passed the mic, each taking a turn briefly sharing their experiences from the Summit.
For the final event, art summit participants traveled to the DePaul Art Museum, just north of downtown Chicago, to meet political cartoonist and muralist Eric J. Garcia for an artist talk on his interdisciplinary practice and his installation, The Bald Eagle’s Toupee.
The high and narrow walls on the second floor of Depaul Museum feature Garcia’s red, white, and blue mural, which depicts iconic American imagery. A bald eagle, Uncle Sam, and other satirical political images sparked discussion of social injustices. The audience then followed Garcia into a second room where they were presented with a large nest—his War Nest—made from wooden rifles.
Plywood weapons coming from all directions point toward the center of Eric Garcia’s War Nest, where a figure wearing a coonskin cap peeks up from a black couch. A trail of smoke leaving the figure’s weapon indicates that it has been fired.
Photographer Fanny Garcia works from dreams, memories, and military experiences to explore perplexity and lingering emotions. Raised in Los Angeles, CA, she received her BFA in Photography from California College of the Arts in Oakland. Garcia received the 2019 Kala Veterans Residency from Kala Art Institute for her past military service in the U.S. Army and her photographic series After Dark (behind her in the above photo), on display in Open/Closed, part of the NVAM Triennial.