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In Country: Soldier's Stories From Iraq and Afghanistan

Jennifer Karady’s work at CEPA Gallery

“We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative. In order to really live we make up stories about ourselves and others about the personal as well as the social past and future.” —Joan Didion, The White Album, 1979.

Ten years earlier, I went over, in late 1969. The Beatles’ The White Album had just come out and we were using up the last of our gas money driving all over west Texas before shipping out, listening loud on an eight-track in a borrowed lifer’s Camaro. A year later, almost to the day, I was back, a year in Vietnam behind me, being fitted for a summer-weight service dress uniform at the Army base in Oakland, for my flight out of San Francisco and home. My war was over. I would never wear that uniform again.

Jennifer Karady’s highly choreographed series of photo documentary events concern combat veterans from the two most recent and continuing conflicts that put “boots on the ground,” putting another generation “in harm’s way.” Neither simplifying nor exploiting their war wounds, mental and physical, Karady creates almost saintly tableaux featuring uniformed survivors retelling pictographically their personal recollections of obligee and obscenity. Having returned home, they continued in trauma: numbly inured, spiritually bereft, emotionally halt, behaviorally blocked because of something they witnessed or had violently happen to them. The greater significance of these elaborately staged and collaboratively re-enacted vignettes is they are manifested back home in civilian life in the bosom of friends and family. In fact, loved ones and various actors supply the supporting roles as each veteran in full combat gear mimes the traumatic incident that forms the individual narrative of these viscerally startling images—images almost inchoate without the accompanying text; stories so individually riveting that coupling them with the physicality of the veteran’s chosen memory completes the coherent whole and the viewer, not unlike being in a house of horrors, reels with apprehension.

These images are staged like religious icons—parables that perpetuate the spiritual unknown like the healing illuminations of the Pre-Rennaisance. Karady has taken a pragmatic approach to politically difficult subject matter in behalf of advances in cognitive behavior therapy. With her detail-oriented way of portraying a scene, more like a painter than a photographer, she engages the viewer, dramatizing veteran’s stories through both literal and metaphoric-allegorical depictions of the hyperreal psychological effects of war. Through therapy known as” virtual reality exposure”, in projects such as Karady’s Soldiers Stories, veterans can complete the “circle of communication” in a three-step social process essential to healing: being heard, being believed, and being remembered. And out of immersion in exhibitions such as In Country, a public understanding and empathy may grow. As a veteran of an earlier foreign war, mine did.

The exhibit continues at CEPA Gallery through September 17.

j. tim raymond

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