The Ornithology of War, 2005

Exhibited at: Jonson Gallery of the University Art Museum, UNM, Albuquerque, NM in 2005.
Dimensions: Variable.
Materials: red paint, fabric, mailing tags, nails, wooden ammunition box, oil, rope, hardware.

The human losses from within Iraq are not the only tragedy of this decade’s war- the native birds of the lands have all but been obliterated from the fumes of oil fires, the heat of bomb explosions and the burning and stripping of their habitats due to occupation.

The Mesopotamian Marshlands, which are these birds’ habitat, were already highly impacted by the first Gulf War, and in the years following, Saddam Hussein drained the marshlands, to prevent insurgent revolutionary rebels located within the area from rising up against his regime. The size of the Mesopotamian marshlands was once the size of the Florida Everglades. As a result of the two Gulf Wars, scientists report that the marshlands have shrunk from 15,000 square kilometers to 50. The native birds affected by this war, the Basra Reed Warblers in particular, are now misplaced, without a habitat, much like many of the communities of Iraq. The Reed Warblers are flying into the windows of the Endangered Species list, where scientists sitting in labs on the other side of the planet document and monitor their dying survival. These birds, which have been native to the region for centuries, are looking at utter extinction, proving that warfare and strife has not only scarred the country’s people, but also the landscapes of their land.

This piece began out of a need to reach the intangible situations within Iraq, to stitch a net of consciousness between here and there for Americans to access. This piece was meant as a space of MEMORIAM.

I began to imagine the Basra Reed Warblers as contemporary carrier pigeons, traveling and landing on American doorsteps with the names and dates and numbers of deaths occurring from this war. They came as effigies for the lost. Birds are a spiritual symbol of the human soul being released from the physical constraints of the earth, so with this piece I wanted to visualize room for hope amidst the realization of tragedy.

This installation was created to immerse the viewer in a place of recognition and acknowledgement. On two walls, thousands of hand-written tags, bearing the names of lives lost of all nationalities, were hung in rows, blanketing the walls. On the fourth wall, multiple fabric hand-sewn birds spilled over the archway of one of the doors, and from the archway hung two bottles of honey-colored motor oil, on a pulley, referencing a scale. On the third wall, rows of empty nails were placed, resembling a military graveyard. On the floor of the gallery, an old wooden military ammunition box held multiple blank tags, for the viewer’s use in adding names that might not have been recorded, or for recording names on the tags that the viewers chose to take away from the piece.

My hopeful intention behind The Ornithology of War was to construct a space for the people to simultaneously remember and protest the sadness of this war. For myself, writing out the names of those lives lost connected me to each of those individuals, and the idea of having viewers take names with them and pass those names on was my hope to extend this experience of personal involvement further.