Reading the “Veterans Book Project” in Western New York

I am pleased to share photos of readers taken during the Veterans Book Project (VBP) exhibitions in Chautauqua County this November.  Two sets of the VBP library–fifty volumes, each written by a different person with first-hand experience of war–were exhibited simultaneously at two locations. At the Weeks Gallery we put on a full-blown exhibition with lots of support allowing teachers and professors to bring their classes to the gallery for quiet reading and discussion sessions. On average, we worked with one college or high school class  per day in the gallery.  SUNY-Fredonia’s Reed Library Lobby Gallery, hosted a smaller installation of the VBP library, which faculty across campus sent students to visit. One professor used the VBP as a focus for her Literatures of War class and Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk, plugged the VBP at his talk at Fredonia. Castner said that teachers all over the country are looking for recourses like the VBP, which puts the words of everyday veterans and Afghan and Iraqi civilian refugees right in students’  hands, in a quick-to-read format that communicated directly about the sobering realities of war.

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Facilitating reading and discussion sessions with student on my campus, I came to realize that today’s college freshmen were in kindergarten when the Twin Towers fell. When the Iraq War began they were in second grade. For most of them, the media coverage of US military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing terrorism at home and abroad closely connected with these conflicts has been a buzz humming in the background of their lives.  It felt important to work with these young people to try to pull the realities of the human cost of war into the foreground of their consciousness through discussion and debate spurred by reading the VBP library. My hope is that they left the exhibitions understanding some of the reasons why 21 veterans kill themselves every day and I hope that they recognize that this war statistic takes comes into being in neighborhoods where they live, not in some distant land.

Many of you may know that I have followed the Veterans Book Project by artist Monica Haller for some time. Haller built the library  between 2009 and 2013 by facilitating thirteen bookmaking workshops across the country, each with four to six participants. Before it was completed, the Veterans Book Project was included in the San Jose Biennial and an exhibition presented by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. In 2012 a nearly complete Veterans Book Project was presented as a solo show at the Nomas Foundation Gallery in Rome, Italy, and again in 2013 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Haller has been invited to speak about the VBP at countless colleges and universities as well as at  Pompidou Center in Paris. The VBP library is now complete with fifty volumes; Chautauqua County hosted the first two exhibitions of the completed work.

Thanks to Randy Gadikian, Reed Library Director and to Anna Stadick for editing this post.Thanks to Mark Kirsch for taking many of these photos and sharing them with me.


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