ST. LOUIS, MO.-War and disaster have profoundly shaped the opening years of the 21st century. In the United States and abroad, acts of violence and terrorism as well as natural catastrophes have resulted in large-scale destruction and displacement affecting the lives of millions.
In February, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis will present On the Margins, an exhibition exploring the impact of war and disaster through the work of a diverse range of contemporary artists. Curated by Carmon Colangelo a nationally known printmaker as well as dean of the university's Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts the exhibition will showcase more than a dozen works, ranging from prints and photographs to video and large-scale installations, by ten artists from around the world.
Several installations play against traditional approaches to war memorial. For example, Fallen (2004-ongoing), by the American artist Jane Hammond, comprises a large field of brightly colored leaves, each bearing the name of a soldier killed in Iraq. Similarly elegiac is Metal Jacket (1992/2001), by South Korea's Do-Ho Suh, which consists of 3000 dog tags stitched to the liner of a U.S. military jacket. Abidin Travels: Welcome to Baghdad (2006), an interactive video installation by the Iraqi expatriate Adel Abidin, allows viewers to become virtual tourists amidst the wreckage of his native Baghdad.
Ghost Story (2007), by Ireland's Willie Doherty, and Bouncing Skull (2007), by Italy's Paolo Canevari, are both haunting videos that capture the subtle, quiet horrors of life in a war zone. The Ghost of Liberty (2004), by Mexican artist Enrique Chagoya, uses the format of a traditional Mayan codex to investigate the wake of 9-11 through a mix of political, religious and popular imagery drawn from diverse cultures. Strategic Museum Plan for Baghdad (2006) by the Cuban artist Luis Cruz Azaceta, who now lives in New Orleans, ponders the fraught connections between the arts and war.
The Difference between Black and White (2005-06), by the African-American artist Willie Cole, is a strikingly formal piece, constructed from hundreds of old shoes, that subtly alludes to the meditative mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism. Laylah Ali, a Washington University alumnus, explores the tension between violence and social revolution in a series of simple yet meticulously crafted gouache drawings. Finally, Martha Rosler's Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series (2004) is a suite of satiric photomontages that embed militaristic imagery within the trappings of upper middle class luxury.
Support for On the Margins was provided by the Charles and Bunny Burson Art Fund and by individual contributors to the Kemper Art Museum and Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. An illustrated, full-color catalogue will accompany the exhibition. The volume, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, will include a foreward by Colangelo as well as critical essays by Eleanor Heartney and Paul Krainak.