The ravages of war are legion. The new exhibit Art, War & Disability by the art collective Yelling Clinic at the Berkeley Art Center describes the legacy of the Vietnam War through the masterful work of a group of so-called disabled artists, who are, indeed, superbly able to transmit the courageousness of their struggle through the profundity and conciseness of their art. The artists, Huynh Thuy Chau, Nguyen Van Duong, Emma McElvoy, Katherine Sherwood, Nguyen Quoc Tri, Katherine Sherwood, Sunaura Taylor, Ehren Tool, and David Wallace, plus writer Susan Schweik, use their art to not only raise awareness about the human cost of war but also to facilitate a powerful discourse about the nature of war disability.
Although for most of us the Vietnam War ended more than 35 years ago, the terrible ramifications of this conflict continue to touch the daily lives of millions across the globe. Those who are permanently affected by war are all too often used as symbols of patriotism and tragedy. Yelling Clinic works to subvert that paradigm and give those disabled by war a more active voice in the larger community. Art, War & Disability does an impressive job at reclaiming and reframing history into an evocative, aesthetic journey, where compassion overtakes tyranny and war itself is plainly revealed as a gross absurdity.
This show is not about peace, war, or even protest; it’s about art. And art, when it’s good, is always ambiguous, relevant, and far-reaching. Dozens of engrossing, multimedia works line the walls in this cogent presentation. Nguyen Van Duong’s painting “Untitled (Disabled in the Woods)” invokes Manet’s “Le Déjeuner Sur l’herbe,” but instead of bountiful food baskets surrounding fair-faced subjects, crutches work to barely assist faceless patients. In Huynh Thuy Châu’s “The 100 (Tet Offensive),” dozens of red and yellow (McDonald’s’ colors) sock monkeys hang from one another in a limp chain, composing an ineffectual army storming their way up a wall they could never hope to climb. From another perspective, this community of soldiers isn’t an army, per se, but the Yelling Clinic collective itself, scaling the indifferent wall of the larger, world community. In her words, Huynh reminds us of the growing power of the collective: “Their voices gain power that demand others to listen to their needs and acknowledge their identities.” Art, War & Disability runs through June 2 at the Berkeley Art Center (1275 Walnut St., Berkeley). 510-644-6893 or BerkeleyArtCenter.org