Categories
Americas Women

Vrnda

Iraq war mom - mixed media drawing by Lee Lee

When I was pregnant, I had the opportunity to listen to one of the impassioned speeches given by Vrnda Noel in Denver. Mother of a combat medic in Iraq, she shared deeply emotive stories of what was happening there based on letters written home by her son. She had made him promise to write about his experiences in minute detail. Ultimately this ended up being cathartic for him as there were many traumatic situations that he was able to let go, and then forget. The speech she was giving was during an anti-war rally outside our local senators’ offices and I was struck by the expressions of love, sorrow and fear that passed through her delicate features. After his return to the US, they created a number of participatory creative projects that spoke to the impacts of war and the process of healing the mental wounds from it. Empty army boots and civilian shoes installed in Civic Center Park represented the growing death toll on both sides of the conflict. The combat paper project helped Vets transform by encouraging them to purge frustrations by destroying uniforms, then use the pulp to create artworks. Their practices inspired some aspects of the community work I’ve developed over the years since.

This series of portraits was included in the very first exhibition I had after Thatcher Gray was born. I created them while he was in my womb, and the process allowed me to consider this relationship between a mother and her war torn son. Shreds of oil paintings that I had torn apart with a shotgun were used as the base of a collage, which I then laid hot coals atop to produce a speckling of charred board across the picture plain. Pencil drawings depict the range of expressions that passed through Vrnda as she spoke with determination about her love for her son, and as an extension, all of the other sons affected by war.

Iraq war mom - mixed media drawing by Lee Lee
Iraq war mom - mixed media drawing by Lee Lee
Iraq war mom - mixed media drawing by Lee Lee
Categories
Sacred Practice Women

Pietà

Torched Angels from Havana’s Graveyard

We had the opportunity to travel to Cuba in the winter of 2000. I was inspired to paint this series based on the feelings I received from meeting artists, exploring Havana’s International Art Biennial, discovering the coutryside and convening with a Santaria Priest. The layers of history, emotion and social relationships are complex. There is a great deal of pride and frustration both. The portrayed figures come from photographs I took through Havana’s main cemetery. For me, the series of white stone angels and portraits of the Virgin Mary were charged with a similar range of emotions I felt while meandering through the various urban neighborhoods and landscapes there. There is a great deal of loss held by community members yet they continue to hold strong to the qualities that define them as uniquely Cuban.

The works were created with a blowtorch. I burned layers of collaged materials then painted the portraits of the cold marble figures atop of the charred works. At this time in my creative evolution, I was exploring ways of conveying resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. I remember a particular conversation with a group of musicians in Pinar del Rio about how my process integrated destruction into the textual layers of a work. I had shown them a series of works from Cambodia, where I had portrayed icons from Angkor Wat atop layers of wood I had torn up with a shotgun. They questioned the order in which the works were made, asking if I was mutilating these figures in an aggressive way. I told them than no, indeed I was not. The figures grew as representations of an enlightened state out of the fields that were pieced together from the violent process of literally tearing it up with a shotgun. The conversation made me acutely aware of how process contributed to the meaning inherit in this kind of work.

Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee
Cuban Angel painting by Lee Lee