Veterans' artwork finds new home
By DAWNE LEIKER
Special to The Hays Daily News
ST. FRANCIS -- There's exposed insulation in the ceiling, an American flag hanging in front of a twisted baptismal and a big yellow cat watching the entrance. And as unlikely as it might seem, a dream to give a voice to veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder is catching light here.
The former Assembly of God Church, St. Francis, unoccupied for many years and suffering from its own stresses architecturally, is the planned site of the Memorial to Memories of Veterans. According to its founder, Joseph Carman, the structure will serve not only as a home for original artwork created by veterans but as a refuge for those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The idea is to recruit more and more veterans to come here, reside here and make a piece of the church their own," Carman said during a tour of the building in late May. "We want to use this as a place of respite for the artists.
"My desire is to help all range of trauma sufferers, but it's a practical and logistical decision to start with veterans."
Carman, a former art student and prison psychologist, relocated from Texas to Kansas two years ago and is moving ahead with his project "on faith." He first became interested in PTSD in 2003 when he was working for the Texas Youth Commission, performing psychological evaluations on incarcerated youth. In 2010, he created the 555 Collective, an online magazine designed to draw awareness to populations affected by trauma.
Only a few blocks from the church, at the Quincy Gallery, a related display, "What is War," an international collection of original artwork created by veterans, opened Memorial Day weekend. Presented in cooperation with the Cheyenne Center for Creativity, "What is War," officially launched the development of the permanent memorial for veterans' art at the church building.
"We hope our efforts will demonstrate both the necessity and the potential for a permanent memorial that not only honors the sacrifice made by veterans but allows the rest of us to see the suffering caused by war," Carman said at the opening of the "What is War," display May 25. "Seeing is not only the first step, it is the most critical, as well as the most difficult."
Folleh Tamba, an American citizen raised in Liberia from the age of 5 months, will be the first artist to bring that "seeing" to museum visitors.
"I felt like I had this debt on my head," Tamba said, as he unpacked pieces of his multi-media display at the museum. "I had to pay it back.
"I had to do something. I didn't want to be 50 or 60 years old and look in the mirror and say, 'What have I done?' At least I can say now, when I walk around limping with my head aching at night, I can say, 'I gave back to this country that has given me everything.' That's where my work comes from, and that's who I am as an individual."
Tamba grew up a refugee and experienced a childhood in the shadow of civil war. He returned to America at 18 years old and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After doing five tours of duty in the Middle East and attaining a Purple Heart, Tamba has created a documentary and multimedia art works that illustrate his compelling stories.
He will use the museum space to do an installation of a piece he calls "War Junkie," which incorporates video, poetry, audio and photo panels. The project originally was created by Tamba as part of his master's in fine arts thesis at Columbia College, Chicago.
"War Junkie" describes the transformation of a soldier who experiences a restless addiction to war.
"I look alive, but dead inside," Tamba said, reading his poem aloud. "Adrenaline depleted by war.
"Boredom killing what is left of a man. ... Until I return to action again."
Continually documenting the sounds, sights and emotions of war, Tamba said he believes it was the artist in him that prompted him to use technology and a variety of media to bring his stories to life.
"Nobody goes to war and comes home scratch-free," he said. "There is no way.
"I feel like I'm giving a voice to a lot of veterans who cannot talk. Hopefully, my own confession can be used to talk to someone. That's my end goal."
In July, Erica Slone, an Ohio native who served in the U.S. Air Force in Iraq from 2002 to 2008, will create a mosaic made of organic and man-made materials for the entrance to the Memorial to Memories of Veterans. Slone, a victim of sexual assault, recently was artist in residence at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Her display, "An Unfit Effect," explores the issues behind "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," women in combat and the historical conflicts in the Middle East.