Friday, March 14, 2008

“Experiencing the War in Iraq”

From my review of “Experiencing the War in Iraq” at Machines with Magnets and Arts Exchange (Pawtucket Armory) in Pawtucket:
March 19 marks the fifth anniversary of the start of our war in Iraq. And with it arrives “Experiencing the War in Iraq,” a timely multi-venue art exhibition and series of video screenings, music, talks, and performances.

The project was sparked last spring when Fall River artist Jeff Carpenter heard from friends about a talk by an Iraq war veteran. An audience member noted that the crowd was mostly gray-hairs and asked the speaker how to attract young people. Carpenter recalls, “He said, ‘Well, they’re probably not going to be so interested in listening to speakers as if you had art and music.’ ”

So that’s just what he set out to assemble with help from co-curators and Providence artists Leif Goldberg, Raphael Lyon, and Erin Rosenthal. An open call attracted about 600 international submissions, from which they chose some 40 pieces to exhibit at Machines with Magnets and the Arts Exchange in Pawtucket. Some of the artists are American veterans or Iraqis. The goal, Carpenter says, is “to reconnect the people who have been disenfranchised or who are cocooning from the reality of the war.”

“We are desensitized to death,” Rosenthal says. “And a lot of these works here bring it back in a way you don’t get from the mainstream media. And that’s why it’s important, because we’re talking about the destruction of human lives.”

An American flag-draped coffin “crashes” through a gallery wall. A monstrous skeletal figure — assembled from bullets, grenades, and artillery shells — haunts one gallery. There are mild-mannered abstractions and generic photos of American troops patrolling Iraq. A video documents a Providence anti-Iraq war street protest. Milton Stevenson creates a mandala of “Support Our Troops” ribbon auto magnets. A couple of artists pulp veterans’ uniforms to turn them into paper.

The art is by turns overwrought and polite; much of it is mixed. But the shows feel scrappy and necessary. They give you space to reflect on the accomplishments and sacrifices of our military: How is the war going? How could it end? Are we safer now? Is Iraq better now? What are the repercussions?
Read the rest here.

“Experiencing the War in Iraq,” Machines with Magnets, 400 Main St., and Arts Exchange (Pawtucket Armory), 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, March 6 to 30, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Lauri Richardson, “Iraq War Memorial: Flags of Freedom, Cost of War”; Akela Sciorra-Ortiz, Lucca Sciorra-Ortiz and Joseph Sciorra, “Baghdad Nativity Scene”; Wafaa Bilal and Shawn Lawson, “One Chair”; and Benton-C Bainbridge and Bobby Previte, stills from video “Sunrise Over Baghdad.”


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