Seeing is understanding

An Afghan boy is seen with a Minnie Mouse face mask in a local cemetery in Kabul, Afghanistan on Oct. 10, 2006. Afghan cemeteries are very basic: a single stone is used to mark the grave and very rarely something is engraved on it. After decades of war in Afghanistan, reconstruction in the country has slowly begun, though ongoing conflict continues to hinder the process. Despite the devastation and irregular water and electricity supply, Afghans struggle for a sense of normalcy. An Afghan boy is seen with a Minnie Mouse face mask in a local cemetery in Kabul, Afghanistan on Oct. 10, 2006. Afghan cemeteries are very basic: a single stone is used to mark the grave and very rarely something is engraved on it. After decades of war in Afghanistan, reconstruction in the country has slowly begun, though ongoing conflict continues to hinder the process. Despite the devastation and irregular water and electricity supply, Afghans struggle for a sense of normalcy.

Visions Of Conflict: A Cultural Context at Wright State University

By Erin Callahan

Photo: An Afghan boy is seen with a Minnie Mouse face mask in a local cemetery in Kabul, Afghanistan on Oct. 10, 2006. Despite the devastation, Afghans strive for a sense of normalcy; photo: Ziyah Gafic

Conflict is constant. From the Hundred Years’ War in the 1300s to the current wars in Afghanistan and Syria, it creates history and molds the future. Images and statements of war cover the newspapers and remain a topic of discussion on news channels. These are visions of conflict the public perceives.

But not everyone retraces the steps of a Vietnam veteran on foreign soil, not everyone looks a soldier in the eyes after they have returned from the battlefield. Visions of Conflict: A Cultural Context offers that chance.

The exhibition, to be held at Wright State University Oct. 18 to Nov. 15, is part of the conference, Accords: Peace, War and the Arts, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords and the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Collaborative Education, Leadership, & Innovation in the Arts, also known as CELIA, is an Ohio Center of Excellence at Wright State University, and is largely responsible for facilitating the conference.

The exhibition will feature work from four photographers and photojournalists who have focused on various experiences associated with conflict, starting with the Bosnian War and branching into other periods in history.

The Dayton Peace Accords are a peace agreement reached on Nov. 21, 1995 between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian presidents to end the war in Bosnia and surrounding countries. It also served as a kind of constitution for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The war began in the early ‘90s in the former Yugoslavia after the federation crumbled, and progressed into a larger war between Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and other countries.

After a few years, chief U.S. peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of State Warren Christopher facilitated negotiations at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. This historic success is now remembered through the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, “dedicated to celebrating the power of the written word to forge peace,” and efforts like this exhibition.

Ben Montague, curator and associate professor of art at Wright State, was approached by Andrew Strombeck, associate professor of English, to organize an exhibition on the subject, and he sought out photographers and photojournalists with different, yet distinct voices on conflict.

“We hoped to avoid the idea that art can promote peace, or that one piece can change the world, but art can hopefully help us understand conflict,” Montague explains.

Photographer Ziyah Gafic, a Bosnian native who vividly remembers growing up during the war, will feature work from his Quest for Identity series, in which he photographs items found in mass graves which are used to identify those killed during the war. Photographs contain items like toothbrushes, pictures, keys and watches laid upon a forensics table.

“Besides body parts, these items are a last resort of their identity, regardless [of] their simplicity,” Gafic says.

Though his goal is practical—to create an archive of these items in hopes of identifying 30,000 Bosnians still missing—it’s not meant to be viewed as entertaining.

“I wish I could say enjoy it,” his website states before viewers are prompted to view the gallery. “These items are all things we use or have used,” he tells Dayton City Paper. “That resonates everywhere. This became another way to tell a story about mass graves that’s been told countless times.”

While attendees may look at Gafic’s photographs and see familiarity, they could look at photographer Louie Palu’s work and see something more unexpected.

They are the eyes of U.S. Marines staring back, immediately after leaving the battlefield in Afghanistan. They are dust covered and solemn, posing in colorless photographs with no context of where they are or what they’ve seen—but it could make you wonder, just as Palu did when he saw the image of the American flag being raised at Iwo Jima.

“I always wondered who those men were, where they were from, what their personal story was and how old they were,” he says. “With this series I wanted to have you meet or confront each one of them. I wanted to create images where they were not anonymous people in the midst of battle.”

Another photojournalist featured in the series, Larry C. Price, also seeks to give a face to victims of conflict. In his Redemption Songs series, he documents 12 individuals from the Congo who were child soldiers or part of the sex trade. Now, they’re being retrained for civilian life after growing up in a world surrounded by violence.

The fourth photographer, Jessica Hines, follows a story much more personal. There is a name to the face—her brother’s. After he was drafted into the Vietnam War and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder, Hines set out to retrace his steps, literally, to come to terms with not only his experience, but how it’s affected her and their family. Her series is called, My Brother’s War.

Montague and Strombeck agree the exhibition, the presentation of the DLPP and the conference at large, are meant to promote understanding of conflict beyond what is shown in the media.

“There’s a lot of value in hearing about peace and conflict in literature then leaving the discussion and entering the gallery to see artwork that engages similar themes,” Strombeck says. “I hope attendees walk away with a sense that the arts have a role to play in helping people understand roots of conflict and ways we might start to work to eliminate war in the future.”

Visions of Conflict: A Cultural Context is on view Sunday, Oct. 15-Sunday, Nov. 15 in the will Wright State University Creative Arts Center, 3640 Colonel Gleen Hwy. A talk and reception with Ziyah Gafic will be held Sunday, Oct. 18 from 2:30-5:30 p.m., and a talk and reception with Louie Palu will be held Friday, Oct. 30 from 3:30-5 p.m. Gallery hours are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sundays 12-4 p.m. For more information, please visit wright.edu/events/visions-conflict-cultural-context.

Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com

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