This month marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, marking the first stage of the Iraq War. Veteran Art Movement is partnering with University of Illinois-Chicago and three art institutions to bring together veterans to reflect on the anniversary with work created by artists impacted by war.
Veterans from across the country are gathering to experience art and share stories from their time in the service.
One of the featured artists is Eric Perez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the early 2000s. His piece at the Hyde Park Art Center features portraits he took of friends while serving.
“It’s cut out in digital camouflage patterns,” Perez said. “The first layer is composed of photos from the war. The second layer is a layer of images that are important to them — things that keep them going. The top layer is a new portrait I took in the last year. Using the three layers to piece together a whole person.”
Perez said the visual arts “have been a lifesaver. It’s given me an outlet, a new community to connect and relate to.”
At the Chicago Cultural Center stands a quilt documenting the Black veteran experience. The quilt was created by social justice artist Dorothy Burge; three of her brothers have gone to war.
“The oldest was in Vietnam and experienced lots of racism,” Burges said. “The second was in Germany, and the third in the U.S. All three had different experiences. To hear them talk is powerful, and I want to document what happened to them while in the service.”
Burges continued: “I’ve been using quilting as a tool to document African American history and to get people to do something about issues that are impacting us.”
Her quilt honors Col. Charles Young, the third African American to graduate from West Point.
“He was allowed to go to West Point and experienced racism,” Burge said. “But in spite of that, survived and came out and became the first African American colonel in the country. And in 2022, they finally promoted him from colonel to general, even though he passed in 1922.”
Whether it’s quilts, photographs or sculptures, Perez said the connector will always be the stories shared through their work.
“What I hope people get is the greater history of veteran history and art and voices … it’s not a monolithic veteran thought,” Perez said. “There are a lot of different viewpoints, and I’m just one of many voices.”
“I don’t want to make veteran art that only speaks to veterans,” Perez continued. “Finding ways to communicate our experiences and relating those to others is how we’ll be able to move forward.”
This year’s four-day summit kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday. For more information, click here.
Note: This article will be updated with video.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.