Veterans Book Project

Veterans Book Project by Monica Haller

Traveling exhibition available through the

Weeks Gallery 

The Veterans Book Project is an artwork created by Monica Haller (Guggenheim Fellow 2010).  The Veterans Book Project (VBP) consists of 50 soft-cover books, each written by a veteran, a member of a veteran’s family, or an Iraqi or Afghan civilian or refugee. It is a flexible artwork that can be exhibited anywhere. As an exhibition, the purpose of the VBP is to stimulate honest nonpartisan discussions about war.

In 2005, motivated by a desire to understand the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Haller began asking veterans and others with first-hand experience of war to help her learn from their experiences. After finishing her first artwork devoted to this research, Riley and His Story (Paris: Onestar Press, 2009), Haller began facilitating book-making workshops around the country. She and a team of editors helped veterans organize their personal archives of photographs and their writing into manuscripts. The manuscripts were then published as print-on-demand softbound books and as free digital downloads. These volumes comprise the VPB library. The books are designed to be read quickly, to give viewers/readers an immediate sense of the realities of war through photographs and first person narratives.

Exhibiting the VBP library:

It is possible to exhibit the VBP virtually anywhere and anyone can purchase the books online.

The entire library has been featured as a solo show in the United States and Europe, in college galleries and recently at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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The following are samples of the VBP library–click on the link to read the book.

  • Jesse Albrecht, Combat medic deployed in the 101st Airborne, stationed in Iraq and Kuwait. This book is a straightforward narrative about daily life of a soldier “living in a tent in the entryway to Saddam’s palace in Mousul”, mixed with Jesse’s reflections on the letters he received from home while deployed. Albrecht meant to show how he took his family to war with him.
  • Mary Ann Rich, Officer in charge of Operating room from June 1006-October 2007 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rich is a patriotic veteran who served in the military for 36 years.  She tells a harrowing story of working in a combat operating room in Takrit Iraq and of her returned home with PTSD.
  • Sudad Aluulhusseen, Iraqi civilian who left Iraq in 2005 because of the war. Sudad is attending high school in Minneapolis. He chose photographs from other VBP books written by American soldiers and then wrote about them from his perspective.
  • William Frank, Montana National Guard for twenty years. Frank was deployed four time since 2003 and both he and his wife Sarah participated in the VBP in Montana, each wrote a book.  workshop He and his wife both produced  times who worked as a bomb target technician.
  • Philip Studer, American Civilian whose brother died in battle in Iraq. Studer tells of the last family vacation with his brother and chronicles his brother’s military funeral.
  • Mike Jackson, Wisconsin Army National Guard. Jackson writes about his experiences of serving with pride in the military as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and contrasts this to his experiences in battle on the streets of Racine Wisconsin, the town where he grew up in foster care.
  • Nya Reyes, Served as Matt Reyes in the US Army Ordnance Corps Ammunition Officer 1997-2008. Nya left the Army to undergo sex reassignment surgery,a procedure she was not allowed to undergo an continue to be a soldier.
  • Zainab Jawhar, Iraqi Civilian. Jawhar lost her legs when she was hit by an errant U.S. mortar shell while sleeping in her bed. She wrote her book with the help of a translator while she was undergoing rehabilitation in the United States.

Deploying the VPB on your campus:

The VBP has been exhibited in university galleries where it has easily been links with curriculum across the arts and humanities disciplines.

It is possible to exhibit the books with furniture or gallery pedestals that are on hand on your campus.

The VBP library is designed to give viewers quick access to first-hand narratives of war.  It can be shown in libraries, galleries, classrooms, student centers, lunchrooms, or hallways  Because the entire library is available online it is not necessary to read all of the books or even one entire book in a single viewing. Typically viewers are offered an opportunity to respond to and share what they have read by posting their own reading notes on a gallery wall.

When the VBP was exhibited at University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 2012, faculty in the humanities and arts used it in substantial ways. Inspired by the VBP, the chair of the theater department devoted the senior seminar to the topic of the current wars; she shared the books as a starting point for her class.  The VBP offered these students such a powerful focal point for discussing the impact of the wars on their generation that they devoted the semester to creating an original script, Shrapnel, based on the texts of the VBP. When the VBP was exhibited at the Weeks Gallery at Jamestown Community College twenty-five classes visited.

Campus “Reading Workshops” are directed discussions which yield powerful responses with individual classes or as part of community programing. Reading Workshops can be conducted even without formal exhibition of the project.  Simply setting the books out on tables in a classroom during an allow time for quiet reading followed by facilitated discussion. (Suggested discussion questions are available from the artist). Reading workshops can be geared to high school student class visits as well.

Image gallery for VBP exhibitions within SUNY system. 

Learn more about the project:

Read an essay about the Veterans Book Project by Jane Blocker, Professor University of Minnesota. Jane Blocker, The Pamphlets of History.

Listen to a story about the Veterans Book Project on National Public Radio.

Read an interview with the artist Monica Haller, Photoworks (May 2011).

Read what Fred Ritchin has to say about the VBP and Riley and his Story. Ritchin is professor at NYU and co-director of the Photography and Human Rights program at the Tisch School of the Arts. He discusses the VBP in his new book Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary and the Citizen (Aperture, 2013).

About the artist, Monica Haller:

Monica Haller works on long-term collaborations with individuals and small groups, often using photography, video and writing. Her artistic practice is rooted in social justice concerns and attempts to mobilize information by amplifying the materials and technologies that her collaborators have turned to along the way. Drawing from the experiences of the individuals and communities with whom she works, Monica reactivates their personal histories, and in so doing, hopes to provoke critical dialogue around them and their larger social contexts. Monica has a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies, an MFA in Visual Studies and has received fellowships from foundations including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and the Jerome Foundation.

Contacts: 

Anyone can purchase the books and exhibit them on their campus, but if you would like to formally exhibit the Veterans Book Project, work with the artist or a scholar connected to the project, contact artist Monica Haller or Patricia Briggs, director and curator at the Weeks Gallery.

Borrow the exhibition: Contact Patricia Briggs to borrow the Weeks Gallery’s traveling set of the Veterans Book Project library. Email Patricia Briggs at patriciabriggs@mail.sunyjcc.edu.

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