Veterans Book Project: A very personal view of war
When you walk into the Veterans Book Project exhibition at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Foundation Gallery, you won't find any paintings or photographs on the walls. No statuary populate the floor and nothing hangs from the ceiling; nor is this "performance art." This exhibition is a pair of tables with books on them. The "art" is in words and pictures of men and women sent halfway around the world to fight America's wars or of those left behind.
Created by artist Monica Haller, the Veterans Book Project is a library of books written by vets or someone close to a vet--a spouse, a brother--about their experiences with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Haller conducts workshops where veterans turn their words and images on these conflicts into books to become a part of this library.
The inspiration for this project grew out of Haller's work with a soldier stationed at one of the wars' most notorious places.
"It started with a book I did with one Iraq War veteran and his image archive from Abu Ghraib prison. Riley Sharbonno was an army nurse from 2003 to 2004," Haller recalled. "Starting in 2005, I approached him wanting to know for myself what he was seeing and doing and experiencing as part of the war in Iraq. Those conversations became a three-year collaboration that resulted in a book called 'Riley and His Story.'"
"Riley and His Story" served as the framework for the larger Veterans Book Project (VBP). Haller has conducted VBP workshops across the country and has found that the books from each location tend to be very different from one another as they tell one participant's personal story.
And so it was at UW-Parkside and in southeastern Wisconsin; the books here were different from one another and from those from other parts of the United States. Haller shared one example, a volume produced with UW-Parkside student Mike Jackson.
"The thing that I learned--and we can learn--from this book is that he talks about 'two wars:' he says there's a war going on abroad in Iraq and then there's a war at home. And this war [at home] is the one that's not talked about. That is a war on poverty, on drugs, the war that takes place in our streets and in our penitentiaries, and it doesn't have the resources that we give to the wars abroad," Haller said.
"And he says, 'I'm going to tell you about that war.' And he talks about that as well as talking about combat. He's constantly giving us both."
Jackson's story, those of other area Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, and those who fought the war at home are on exhibition in the Foundation Gallery through May 12. Books from the Veterans Book Project are also being shown at Carthage College, the Kenosha Civil War Museum, and the Racine Art Council's ArtSpace Gallery.
Please note: Some of the images contained within these books are graphic and may be upsetting to sensitive viewers.In the photo, Monica Haller, left, speaks with soldier author Mike Jackson.