LONDON (Reuters Life!) - U.S. artist Emily Prince has been working on “American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan” for five years, and is likely to have to do so for several more.
On an almost daily basis, the 28-year-old from California visits a website that tracks U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq to see if there have been fresh fatalities.
When there are, she calls up the image of a dead soldier if one is available, copies it in graphite pencil, writes some basic personal details and includes a short commentary about the person when there is enough information.
If there is no picture available, Prince leaves most of the piece of card blank.
The result, on show from Thursday at the Saatchi Gallery in central London, is a long room where the white walls are lined with over 5,100 postcard-sized illustrations of fallen soldiers, their skin colour reflected by different-coloured paper.
“It was just out of curiosity, because my country has such a heavy hand militarily and ... I guess I felt something of a responsibility to know more about that since I was connected to it, though may be indirectly,” Prince told Reuters.
“It’s most moving reading about the people more than looking at the faces because that’s when you have a more in depth idea of an individual and that’s when I have more of an emotional response to it.
“But I’m also doing it so much that I don’t think I could possibly sustain a total emotional engagement with it the whole time.”
The postcards are arranged in columns, each of which represents a week.
The gaps are designed to portray how much space on the walls remains for fallen soldiers to fill as well as the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who are not represented.
The full title of the work, which Prince began in 2004, is “American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis Nor the Afghans)”.
“In a metaphorical way I am definitely interested in pointing to negative space that accounts for how many more there might be, or more importantly all the individuals who are not seen here at all on the other side of the war.
“I’m hoping that the piece can point to the absences that are here as well in that way.”
Prince plans to continue adding to the work until U.S. troops are withdrawn from both countries.
“That’s been my plan from the beginning. The longer that I do it the more committed to it I feel. It’s been almost a daily practice for almost five years now and I can’t imagine not doing it for as long as these (military) engagements continue.”
The work is on display at the Saatchi Gallery until May 7.
Editing by Paul Casciato