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Page 26
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The Emerging Veteran Art Movement Gains Momentum

By Kevin Basl

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Artist and Iraq War veteran Yvette M. Pino says that she initially avoided politics in her artwork. One of the original guidelines of her Veteran Print Project, which pairs civilian artists with veterans to produce an original print, was for participants to remain apolitical. Then she got connected with other veteran artists who challenged this idea and her perspective changed. "To tell somebody they can't be political is in a way censoring the actual story," she said about her project in an interview with the Madison Cap Times. Now she embraces politically-provocative artwork.

Hipolito Arriaga of the Combat Hippies.
Photo by Sandro Abate.

A growing movement of veterans and service members are making art challenging militarism, Islamophobia, sexist DOD and VA policies, military cliches, racism in the ranks, and more. Iraq War veteran Joyce Wagner organized a project in response to George W. Bush's best-selling book of veteran portrait-paintings. Wagner's ongoing Portraits of a Commander encourages veterans to offer a counter-perspective—to create portraits of Bush from their view. Air Force veteran Eric J. Garcia makes social and political hypocrisies easily understandable with El Machete Illustrated, a cartoon he regularly publishes. Two well-established art organizations that grew out of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Warrior Writers and Combat Paper, both now over a decade old, have inspired a handful of veteran writing and papermaking workshops to follow their lead.

All of these artists are part of the emerging veteran art movement (eVAM). To be clear, eVAM is not an organization; it's a decentralized network. Simply, it's a community sharing opportunities and ideas, promoting each other's work, fostering friendships, and producing thought-provoking artwork. eVAM stands in contrast to the recent spate of arts and media organizations attempting to capitalize on US military "hero worship," some of which clearly exploit veterans' creative labor and social status. For example, We Are the Mighty specializes in the production of military-focused media content aimed at veterans, service members, and military families. In their own words: "[We] capture, empower and celebrate the voice of today's military community." They also boast: "[We] connect brands to the US military." Because they are funded by brands like Boeing, Amazon, NBC, and Major League Baseball, they're a formidable cultural force. Keeping a handful of veterans on their staff gives them a veneer of authentic representation. We Are the Mighty is just one of many such organizations. Not surprisingly, much of the media and artistic content produced by such groups reinforces the very ideas and stereotypes challenged by eVAM. If dissident artists want to get their voices heard in the hyper-capitalistic media and art world, sharing resources and promoting each other's work just makes sense.

Fellow About Face (IVAW) member Aaron Hughes and I spent last year gathering interviews with veteran artists, as a way to encourage dialogue about this growing movement, to share their stories, and to gain perspective on what it means to be a "veteran artist." We released the first six of these interviews in a podcast series called Eighty One Echo (the name is a play on Army MOS 81E, soldiers who "illustrate, draft and lay out illustrations for posters, graphs, charts, tests, and training aids"). Some of the artists featured in the upcoming season include Hipolito Arriaga and Anthony Torres of the spoken word performance troupe The Combat Hippies, poet Brian Turner, ceramicist Jessica Putnam Phillips, and Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz, who has collaborated with several veteran artists in our network. We'll announce others throughout the year.

For more information, visit www.veteran-art-movement.net, where you'll find Eighty One Echo, links to the work of over 50 veteran artists, a list of veteran arts organizations who represent our values, exhibitions, press and other readings about our growing movement.

Kevin Basl is a writer and musician living near Ithaca, NY. He is a member of About Face (IVAW) and Veterans for Peace.

Quiverfull by Yvette M. Pino

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