On the evening of October 21st, a group gathered at Woman Made Gallery for a dynamic presentation by the artist and educator Mary King on her solo show “War Stories”. Generously co-sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at University of Illinois Chicago, the presentation included specific background information on the artist’s process in creating the series on display, as well as a history of her life as an artist and more general information on her art practice.
Mary King created “War Stories” through conducting extensive interviews with war veterans and survivors from the 2nd World War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The pieces she presents are illustrative, occasionally abstracted images distilled from whole stories to depict single emotional elements that are sometimes climactic and sometimes simple details.
In her talk, King focused on these elements, explaining with great passion what each of her pieces illustrates- a soldier crying because he is not allowed to help the thirsty children he encounters in the desert of Iraq, a young German woman’s mother questioning her as to why she is late coming home after she has just been wounded by shrapnel, and smiling faces emerging from the beautiful tiles of the German subway system, representing the excitement and glee of war against a symbolic backdrop of safety (the subways system served as a bunker during airstrikes).
This part of the presentation inspired a dialogue amongst the audience about the particular responsibilities of artists during times of war and struggle, and the ways in which all people have the capacity to be collaborators or at least complicit in the violence and suffering of war despite their relative removal from its reality.
King then went on to talk about how she became an artist, creating life size paper dolls in her one room school house when her teacher was busy attending to one of the other seven grades that shared the classroom. She spoke on issues of time, money, and discipline, describing how she has structured her daily life to support her art-making, through creating art first thing every morning, not answering the phone until the afternoon, and saving money by purchasing everything on sale and re-dying her black jeans so they always look fresh.
The final part of the presentation was an art activity in which King asked participants to illustrate their own stories of war, drawing quickly and directly so as to evoke a visual representation of the most emotional elements of the story. We then shared our drawings and the stories behind them. This was an excellent way to end the presentation. Not only did we gain some knowledge and understanding of one another and our experiences, the exercise also confirmed the value of Mary King’s process as a successful means of exploring and representing the complex reality of war and its effect on individuals.
-Ruby Thorkelson, Gallery Coordinator