From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Please Come to Chicago: Notes on the 2023 Veteran Art Triennial and Summit

By Walter Nygard

I have to admit, I was skeptical when Frontline Paper accepted an invitation to do a one-hour-and-a-half papermaking workshop at the four-day Triennial. A 787-mile ride with a vanload of gear to an unpaid gig? Fortunately, over the eleven-plus years we've been in operation, we've gotten good at road trips. Even at the end of winter, Chicago sounded good.

Formerly known as Combat Paper, N.J., we'd renamed Frontline Arts to take over what was then the New Jersey Printmaking Center. Frontline Paper continued the veterans' project of deconstructing US military uniforms, reclaiming them as paper, and using that paper to communicate our stories through art.

So in the dark morning hours of March 15th, Ron Erickson, James Teichman, and I set out for the Windy City. Three former US Marines bound for SURVIVING THE LONG WARS (STLW), the trilogy of art exhibits that would frame and define the Veterans Art Triennial & Summit.

The Summit opened at the Hyde Park Art Center on Chicago's South Side. Welcome and Grounding Ceremonies were followed by two full days of diverse workshops, many focused on Black, Indigenous, and Middle Eastern studies. Humanities and community health discussions, monoprint, quilting, writing, and our papermaking workshop were held in well-equipped studios, performance spaces, and meeting rooms.

Upstairs, their gallery is home to "Unlikely Entanglements," the first of the three exhibits collectively known as STLW. Through the American Indians Wars and the Global War on Terror, the exhibits "explore the multiple overlapping histories that shape our understanding of warfare, as well as the alternative visions of peace, healing and justice generated by diverse communities impacted by war."

The second exhibit, "Residues and Rebellions," is at the Newberry Library. Located on the Near Northside, the Newberry is a stately and world-famous research library dating from 1893. The exhibit seemed to parallel the mission of the Library, offering moments in our history from 19th-century American Indian art to poignant modern drawings by an incarcerated veteran artist.

With "Reckon and Reimagine," the third installment of STLW, a denouement is achieved in work ranging from exquisite dignity to damning indictment. The wonderful ink drawings of Indian men and women on US Cavalry recruitment paper contrast starkly with burnt canvas images, laser-cut brass plaques, and haunting watercolors of Iraqi people, men, women, and many, many children who died in US bombings.

"Reckon and Reimagine" is at the Chicago Cultural Center, where Ron, James, and I spent the last two days of the Summit. In the magnificent Grand Army of the Republic Room, we tabled for Frontline Paper, made new friends, and rekindled some older ones.

The Summit was ending, and it was time for us to head back to Jersey.

The exhibits are still available, through May, June, and July. The three of us were reenergized and inspired by the Triennial and the important art. An experience of seeing art in any setting or situation can be—should be—transformative. The work we saw is alive right now. Implications and messages come point blank. They are there for us and will be in the future when history notes how well we listened.

Walter Nygard was born in Portland, Oregon, USMC, Vietnam, Okinawa, Philippines, 1969-70, The University of New Mexico, Grad, English/Art. Currently Studio Manager, Frontline Paper, Branchburg, NJ.

Walter Nygard.

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