Our Vendors 

Women veterans find healing through art

Fri, May 25, 2012

Eight women veterans participated in a panel discussion and displayed their artwork in an exhibition entitled Overlooked/Looked Over at the National Veterans Art Museum on Saturday, March 10. The show coincided with International Women’s Day, which was two days earlier, and National Women’s History Month. The title comes from the late actress and sex symbol Mae West who said, “I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.”

Erica Slone served as the curator for the show and is a Navy veteran. She noted that 14.5 percent of the active duty military is female and there are 1.8 million women veterans. Multimedia artwork ranged from photographs and sculptures to video and molds. The artists expressed statements on the roles and treatment of women in the military throughout their discussion and artwork.

Slone displayed a piece titled Uncovering My Crime Scene. Her exhibit contained an old ratty mattress with a hole torn in the middle, in a room with its door left partially opened. Slone is a lesbian who served under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that was lifted last year.

“I was drugged,” Slone said. “My body felt different because I had never been with a man.” She knew what had happened,
but reporting this to the authorities was an obstacle under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Slone was assaulted when she was 21, but she had not talked about it until just over a month ago. “I don’t know why, but there is an embarrassment, a shame,” Slone said. Her exhibit is about investigation, she said.

Several of the women involved in Overlooked/Looked Over shared their stories of sexual abuse and mistreatment. Military sexual trauma (MST) is the most common form of post-traumatic stress disorder for women veterans.

Regina Vasquez comes from a Marine Corps family. Her father served, she was born on base and she followed in his footsteps when she enlisted. She was raped by two other Marines who threatened to kill her and hide her in the woods if she told. It was nearly 11 years later before she was able to tell her husband what happened.

Once she told her husband, Vasquez began to connect with other MST victims through Facebook. “I didn’t want to feel alone and I
wasn’t,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez uses her art to help heal herself and to educate the public. Her display entitled Fatigues Clothesline is a line of inside out
fatigues with testimonies from other victims of MST written on them.

“When we wear that uniform, we’re proud,” Vasquez said. “But, what you don’t see is what’s on the inside. What’s on the inside of that uniform is what counts.”

The healing process has taken years for many women veterans. Robynn Murray was sexually assaulted in 2004. She reported it to her drill sergeant and it never went further. Murray did not receive counseling until this year.

Women veterans can become re-victimized when there are no consequences or reactions to the attacks. “For years I felt like
I wasn’t sexually assaulted because nobody else treated it like I was,” Murray said.

Murray was a machine gunner and felt second guessed even as an instructor because she is a woman. Her art is displayed on molds of her torso. “I couldn’t separate being a woman from being in the military,” Murray said. “You work twice as hard for half the credit. Everywhere I went, being a woman seemed so important to everyone else.”

Iris Feliciano, a Marine Corps veteran, displayed self-portrait photographs entitled (un) clothed and in her right mind. The idea for her artwork comes from a biblical story where Jesus releases the demons of a disturbed man. She uses clothing as a symbolic measurement
of her own sanity.

“After living out of uniform for a few years,” Feliciano said, “I began to feel unknowable even to myself. In stripping away the symbols with which I identified, I found myself bare and vulnerable. But this same vulnerability allowed me to begin to see who I was outside the context of symbols without assuming defeat. Through this series of self-portraits, I am trying to understand what frames identity and learning to recreate my own.”

Emily Yates worked as a print journalist, or what they call a public relations specialist, in the Army. She showed photographs she
took mostly in Baghdad. As a creative person Yates often felt stifled in the Army. Her writing was often censored or got her into trouble. Yates found a way to improve her life through photography.

“I became friends with [my camera],” Yates said. “It showed me how the world could look through its lens, and that lens helped me show the world how it looked through my eyes. It was a good relationship.”

And the Towers Fell is a requiem piece using etched plates over prints of the Twin Towers. Victoria Bryers served in the Coast Guard Reserves and spent many days next to, and in view of, the towers.

Bryers spoke of an earlier exhibit where all the women’s art was stored in the basement. “We are in a man dominated art world,” Bryers
said. “We’re overlooked. We’re relegated to the basement too many times.”

Joyce Wagner showed a video she described as a series of memory triggers. She said soldiers are often performing roles they have only seen in film. This seemed an appropriate medium for her to express herself.

Wagner was honorably discharged by the Marine Corps. “After experiencing and witnessing gross inequity amongst service members
based on gender, sexuality and race,” Wagner said,” [I] could no longer see the military as a force that could ‘free’ anyone.”

Overlooked/Looked Over will be on display at the National Veterans Art Museum until Memorial Day. Victims of MST can find
support through Protect Our Defenders at protectourdefenders.com.,

Written by: Andrew Marciniak
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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