Wounded Not Worthless
After the US Army medically retired me in 2009 because of multiple physical and mental disabilities I suffered during my 11+ year active duty service-most later attributable to unknown chemical, environmental, and burn pit exposures that happened to me during my combat deployments to Kuwait/Iraq (OIF-2003) with the 7th Transportation Group out of Fort Eustis, VA where I was awarded the Bronze Star and to Afghanistan (OEF-2008) with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) out of Fort Campbell, KY where I was MEDEVACd home after becoming seriously ill-I spent many years in a dark pit of anger, self-pity, depression, and pain. I wallowed in everything I thought I lost (my profession, my self-worth, my health) that I wanted to shut everything and everybody out. Instead of seeing my professional accomplishments, the differences I made in the lives of my Soldiers, and the role model I was to my children-I only saw the darkness.
This is when I first stumbled upon art. Yes, a 40-something mother of five becoming an art student sounds crazy, especially since all I previously knew were the years I spent as a successful Army Transportation and Information Operations Officer. Once I thought that identity was taken from me, I just wanted to shut down and began seeing myself as worthless. My "invisible wounds" cut me to the core. I had no idea where I fit in or how I could express myself with my whole identity turned upside down. So art, with its distinctive allure of creating something from nothing, literally bubbled up during a Groupon wine and painting class in 2011. True, we didn’t create masterpieces that night; however, I felt lighter somehow—as if a huge weight I didn’t even know I was carrying, shifted just a little bit. The next day I began to explore how I could use my GI Bill to give this ‘art thing’ a try. Here I am, over a decade later, still working on degrees in Studio Art and Art History (as my chronic health issues permit) and having come to grips with the fact that I may never be healthy enough to achieve those degrees. So I still have days where I feel like I am stuck in the murky pit of my past, falling back down into that gloom and muck. But now, I have a medium with which I strive to create a new self-narrative using my wounds as a positive source of inspiration, instead of something that I allow to drag me back down into that black pit of despair. I am still sick. I always will be. I still struggle with depression, anxiety and pain. But I have created a new self narrative as a professional artist that allows me to rise above my physical symptoms.
A major component of my process lies in attempting to translate my confusion and sorrow into some sort of tangible media using whatever is at hand—be it paint, plaster, clay, steel, wood, metal, embroidery, vintage paper products or a mixture of all these and more. By physically displaying my story this way, it gives me separation to analyze my hurt instead of continuing to internalize it. I equally enjoy applying thick applications of acrylic paint mixed with heavy plaster mediums on very large canvases as I do making small intricate collages out of vintage scraps of paper and cloth-finding the ‘messy’ part of creating extremely satisfying on a very basic level. The resulting effects range from paintings with a very sculptural aesthetic to intimate collages and painterly three dimensional creations—finding peace between the crudeness and beauty of it all reflective of how I am feeling on the inside on any given day-and giving voice to these feelings matter because they are important.
And I‘m ready to have this conversation with the world!
I’m ready for my art to spark conversations that are uncomfortable about women in the military and our roles and our experiences without all the damn eye rolls. Can we please sit down and have an honest conversation without being marginalized again by being labeled just another group of angry females? Our experiences matter and they are all worth sharing. From the wonderful to the awful. We matter, our art matters and I know I am not alone. There are other female military members currently serving, female veterans and female wounded warriors using art in similar ways to me and it is time we shine a light on us all. We are Artists. We are not just women using art as therapy. Yes, there is a place for art therapy in the healing process, but what I want to emphatically state is that many of us are on a journey that has incorporated the therapeutic properties into our artistic practices and should proudly be able to state to ourselves and the world that we are indeed professional artists and should be recognized as such. Our work should make people take notice of what we have to say, because what we have to say matters, our voice and our art, matters and it is not worthless. We are not worthless. We may have been treated as such, but that time is at an end and we will not put up with it any longer. We may be wounded in body, but we no longer will let ourselves or anyone else consider us or our art worthless.
Thus, I founded WoundedNotWorthless.com as an online art gallery collective to do just that. It is my goal to support, promote and empower other women military, veteran and wounded warrior artists, like myself, and give a voice to our often-voiceless minority. Together we will be heard because what we say is worth hearing.
And so I will say it again: What we say and how we say it matters.
With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, I like the rest of the world with underlying medical issues, have been in quarantine, thus currently putting art school on hold for the foreseeable future. This time has allowed me to concentrate on what I can do right now, instead of what I can't. What I CAN do right now is work mostly in collage, so I’ve packed up my metal, ceramic, wood, and large painting studios for now and found the intimate work of collage, which only requires a small corner office studio, incredibly satisfying.
I have already been selected for several upcoming exhibitions and shows in 2021 and 2022 and I’m truly excited to see what work springs forth out of this isolation time as well as what additional boundaries I can push because people have very specific ideas about collage and I want to question it all.