WSRC artists explore war
On Oct. 8, the Women’s Studies Research Center held a panel discussion on “Collateral Damage: Civil Society in War.” Through their research and artwork, the three panelists — WSRC scholars Mary Hamill and Linda Bond and senior lecturer at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Bonnie Donohue — discussed how society changes both during and after war.
Director of the Women’s Studies Research Center Prof. Shulamit Reinharz Ph.D. ’77 (SOC) welcomed the audience and introduced the Curator and Director of the Arts at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Susan Metrican, who works with a committee in bringing exhibitions to the Kniznick Gallery.
Metrican then introduced the moderator, Prof. Pamela Allara (FA), and the panelists. Allara noted that the United States’ economy has been based on continuous war since 2001. “We think of war as occurring elsewhere. There, innocent people are massacred. Here, we have been kept safe,” Allara said. The panelists’ artwork “lets us understand that like the innocent victims abroad, we are also collateral damage,” she added. The artists “give voice to people living in a war zone, who otherwise would not be heard.”
Next, Hamill discussed her experiences as an artist, telling the audience of one particular experience working with alum Seth Bernstein ’06 on a project in the 1990s, loaning cameras to Boston’s homeless to narrate their life stories. The exhibit, “regarddisregard,” which was installed at the Museum of Fine Arts, featured the photographs and recordings of the homeless.
Hamill also described visiting Vietnam and Cambodia with John Neil to deliver healthcare to the people there. She told the audience about delivering medical care to thousands of people and the effect those experiences had on her work. Her artwork in Cambodia showcased a struggling mother and her two sons, and she told the audience that she altered the photographs to dolls, placing the little dolls in a large armchair which she said represents her observations.
Hamill also noted the significance of the Khmer Rouge — the Communist Party of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge removed Cambodians from their homes and forced them into labor camps, Hamill said. “More than two million people, one-third of the nation, virtually the entire middle class and more, were killed by starvation, execution or the like,” she added. She also mentioned that the survivors of the Khmer Rouge violence lived in poverty and were neglected, and their grandchildren were hungry, illiterate and unemployed.
Donohue, a photographer and video artist who has studied in Puerto Rico, described researching the sugar-producing Puerto Rican island Vieques for over a decade, showing the audience a before and after map photo of the declining population after the U.S. navy took over to build bunkers to protect inventory of weapons and ammunitions in 1941. The island was the focus of Donahue’s 2006 exhibit, “Vieques: A Long Way Home,” which showcases photos of the bunkers. Donohue also addressed the aftermath of the United States’ involvement in the region, stating that though the U.S. navy left Vieques in 2003, it left behind high poverty and cancer rates and damage to infrastructure.
Next, Bond spoke about the warlike conditions that followed the Sept. 11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center. According to Bond, 9/11 changed the world and in effect, changed her work as well. Due to the subsequent war, Bond said, “I felt everyone was a victim.” After Sept. 11, she responded to the event by making smoke drawings of New York and Afghanistan, including the latter because “in October [the United States] went to Afghanistan and bombed the same number of civilians [that had died in the 9/11 attacks].”
In retaliating, Bond said, “we become the enemy, and [it is hard to determine] who is evil here.”
Bond used images from newspaper s as a reference for her work and larger drawings, also incorporating gunpowder into the drawings. By using gunpowder, Bond stated that she is able to express herself and deliver a message that is more “in touch with the humanity.”
She also noted that she uses her work to quantify, often involving numbers in her pieces. To represent the 150,000 deaths, Bond made 150,000 gunpowder fingerprints in one installation. “Unfortunately, I am still adding to it,” Bond said, alluding to the ongoing conflict. She also represented the 190,000 lost weapons the U.S. brought to Iraq by showcasing 190,000 inventory cards for an installation. Additionally, she created 250 drawings for her project on “Shadow War” to signify the 400 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004.