Indelible images stare from the walls of the Burlington's Green Door Studio. In one large color photograph, Specialist Robert Acosta, age 20, stands in his Southern California yard wearing a Sublime T-shirt. He has a wiry prosthetic where a hand should be. "I mean, like, all the reasons we went to war, it just seems like they're not legit enough for people to lose their lives for," his quote reads in the text that accompanies the image. "I want to know the real reason why we went."
Acosta is one of 12 wounded veterans profiled by Nina Berman, a New York City-based magazine photographer whose exhibit "Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq" will run through April 20 at the gallery at 5 Howard St. Berman's photos have toured the country; Drew Cameron, a member of the Green Door collective and of Iraq Veterans Against the War, brought them to Burlington. He'd heard about Berman from an organizer for Veterans for Peace in Potsdam, New York, he says.
The words of veterans lend weight to Berman's art. But the art of Iraq vets themselves will appear in a second exhibit, entitled "Re-Making Sense," co-organized by Cameron, that opens this Saturday, April 21. A showcase for poems, prose, visual art and performance by members of IVAW, it's part of a national project that started in New York City in February with a writing workshop facilitated by IVAW Program Coordinator Lovella Calica.
Aided by a grant from the Leeway Foundation, Cameron and Calica made the fruits of the workshop into a 29-page book, Warrior Writers: Shoot, Move and Communicate, printed on Cameron's homemade paper. With proceeds from the book, Cameron says, they hope to offer more writing workshops for veterans. Calica will run such a workshop at the Green Door on the 21st, and vets from as far away as Virginia and Illinois will fly in to participate in the 7 p.m. opening, which will include readings and performance. Vermont vets Matt Howard and Adrienne Kinne are also featured.
The exhibit includes Calica's photos of a March 19 action by the Washington, D.C., chapter of IVAW, called Operation First Casualty - a "guerrilla theater" operation in which veterans in desert uniform went on patrol and showed people how it feels to live in a war zone [see video from The Washington Post].
Warrior Writers collects the work of 16 veterans, ranging from poems to essays and freeform prose remembrances. In an excerpt from a longer poem, Cameron describes what it's like to ride across a landscape blighted by "Toxic Munitions." Matt Hrutkay of Albany, New York, recalls the chaotic aftermath of an attack on his platoon in Baghdad. Mark "Gordie" Lachance of Philadelphia talks about the difficulty of readjusting to a world in which people care more about "American Idol" than about what happens in the Middle East.
Cameron says many of the vets "began writing when we were over there. It seems instinctual." Art, he explains, is simply "a different medium of telling our story. Art can really resonate with people. It speaks for itself, essentially."
"Re-Making Sense" will be on view through May 1.