As the ‘war on terror’ enters a second decade, the global pervasiveness of violence has engendered the normalization of shock and numb: we are horrified by tragic incidents, yet accustomed to their regularity, and often, blind to their causes and costs. Using both factual and fictional sources, artists from North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa witness the wages of conflict and reveal an unseen spectrum of loss. Whether reporting from the front lines of recent war zones or excavating past conflicts to expose the roots of current conditions, the artworks featured here emphasize our basic, at times banal, shared humanity: Steve Mumford’s soldiers look askance as blindfolded prisoners board an aircraft carrier; Tim Hetherington’s enlistees are variously dramatic and dormant, and ever vulnerable. Carrie Mae Weems acts as narrator and symbol for the exploitation of human and animal species alike; and Berni Searle affirms the value of lives lost to colonialist greed, as Dinh Q Le’s works resurrect those destroyed by Pol Pot, and Kara Walker exhumes the Civil War-era ghosts haunting layered legacies of injustice.
Myopia is manifest in every age, every culture. Invoking both Francisco de Goya’s critique of 18th-century politics, Los Caprichos, and Shakespeare’s power-hungry magician, Prospero, Yinka Shonibare’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters asserts that perception is determined by perspective. Our worldview is universally obscure, as Jeremy Dean’s Destiny delineates in his global maps presented through the scrim of a thinning United States flag.
Unconventional imagery and materials eloquently enumerate untold tragedies, honoring the living and the dead, in suffering and survival. Architectonic reliquaries crafted from ammunition by Al Farrow, a plaster bust of Osama Bin Laden produced in multiple by Wang Du, and portraits of deprivation drawn on Depression-era bank bags by Travis Somerville resurrect and confront connections between power and oppression. In concert with Jane Hammond’s memorial paper butterfly-maps, Miguel Angel Rojas’s photographic transformation of amputees into classical statuary, Carlos Aires’s cut-vinyl tableau of memento mori formatted into a figure-eight symbol of eternity, and others, the art in Aftermath argues for public engagement, imploring us to witness, to connect, to act, and to heal.