The display of books at Blue Star Contemporary reflects something closer to a library arrangement than a typical art gallery display.
However, the unconventional arrangement that is part of the gallery Veteran Book Project Exhibition serves an important purpose. On view until October 9th Veteran Book Project contains more than 30 books co-authored by artist Monica Haller and veterans and a variety of others affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each book contains personal artifacts from someone affected by the conflicts, whether they be diary entries, drawings, poems or photographs.
The project will be displayed alongside another exhibition focused on veterans, travel distancea mixed media collection exploring deployment and resettlement experiences and honoring San Antonio veterans.
Exhibitions manager Jacqueline Saragoza McGilvray explains that the two exhibits aim to shed light on the undisputed realities of war and the American military, while challenging the prevailing narratives about the soldiers’ experiences.
“We see a lot of portrayals of what it means to be in the military, whether in news or entertainment media, and those portrayals are often quite unique,” says McGilvray. “We wanted to show more diversity in people’s understanding of what different military experiences are.”
In which Veteran Book Project, Haller includes work by individuals involved in the conflicts through the American military—veterans and their families—as well as work by individuals who have connections and war experiences through relationships with Iraqi or Afghan citizens. Together, these narratives paint a multi-faceted picture of the memories left behind after the two conflicts, says McGilvray.
A particularly striking element of the project is the photography, which can be seen in many books. It is a collection of honest and unflinching portraits of the wars, taken by those who lived through them. McGilvray says because most photos were taken before social media meant each photo had an opportunity to be shared with the public, they offer a more intimate, deeply candid account of the artists’ experiences as they happened.
The collection’s driving piece, written by Haller and veteran Riley Sharbonno, does just that, documenting Sharbonno’s harrowing experience as a nurse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which became a notorious scene of wartime human rights abuses. Featuring a collection of heartbreaking photographs paired with poetic journal entries, Sharbonno’s account urges readers to grapple with the lasting memory of United States involvement in Iraq and the tangible impact left in its wake by both American soldiers and Iraqi citizens. Sharbonno’s book, the result of a four-year collaboration with Haller, was the first in the collection of works that eventually became the exhibition.
travel distance takes on a more conventional form. The exhibition, curated by Amber Zora, features a collection of sculptures, photographs, paintings and clothing by nine artists, all of whom are veterans or their family members. The works tell their life stories as a soldier in action or as a relative of an active person.
Several pieces in the collection, such as the ceramic panel installation by Jessica Putnam-Phillips, grapple with the reality of being a woman anchored in a male-dominated organization. She uses ornate heirloom ceramic tableware covered with images of female soldiers in the midst of combat to explore gender roles both at home and in combat. The contrast of these distinctly feminine household appliances with vivid depictions of women at war skillfully juxtaposes two notions of what it means for women to “serve”. At the same time, Putnam-Phillips designs emphasize one of itinerary overarching themes – homesickness and surreal feelings that deployment and relocation can bring.
According to McGilvray, the theme is very important to Blue Star Contemporary because of San Antonio’s long-standing association with the military. “
“A large percentage of San Antonio’s population has ties to the military,” she says. “We believe their experiences should be reflected in the work we feature.”
Veterans Book Project and itinerary
Open from Thursday to Sunday, until October 9th
116 Blue Star
Family Saturday, June 25, 1-4 p.m
Operation Gratitude will be on site with materials to write cards to deployed service members.