A new exhibit at the Pensacola Museum of Art is bringing people face to face with the realities of war. “We’re surrounded by the faces of 100 Americans who participated in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars” said Anna Wall, the Chief Curator of the Pensacola Museum of Art, as she walks through "100 Faces of War", a new exhibit that takes up three galleries on the second floor of the museum.
For the project, 100 people sat for portraits after their experiences with war.
“The artist, Matt Mitchell, painted all 100 of these portraits. He became interested in the topic when he read an article about one of the sitters who returned from Iraq and then committed suicide shorty after.”
There is a wide diversity among the subjects of the portraits. Men, women of all ethnic groups and all shapes and sizes are represented. Five are civilians. Ten were painted posthumously.
“(Mitchell) brought each of the individuals into a studio and sat with them. They sat anywhere from two hours to a couple of days. And then he would finish the portraits on his own. So each portrait took about 40 to 80 hours to complete.”
In addition to the painting, each portrait includes a quote from the subject.
“Each of the sitters was asked to submit their own statement summing up their own experience. There are poems, journal entries, straightforward responses to the war. For the posthumous portraits, families submitted letters that they received from their loved ones when they were abroad, or journal entries. And it’s a real range of reactions.”
The exhibit opened to the public last week and run through January 19. Nicholas Croghan, the museum’s director says this exhibit is perfect for Pensacola. “With such a strong military community in Pensacola, this exhibition serves their needs and wants, shows the recognition that we have for their service, I think it brings that community into the museum space, welcomes them (and) shows them our appreciation.”
The 100 Faces of War is organized by SITES, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with artist Matt Mitchell. It was first put on display in Chicago back in 2014 before all the portraits were completed. From here the exhibit will be going to Quincy, Illinois and later Coral Springs, Florida. And while each portrait subject is in pretty much the same pose, there are quite a variety of different looks. They were allowed to pick how they wanted to be presented and their outfit. There's even one subject who isn't wearing anything at all, at least from the waist up. “He (was) really an eye-catcher when we unpacked him!" said Wall. "But you see a lot of soldiers in their uniforms, and then you see people just in casual, every day wear. There’s a really interesting portrait in the first gallery of a Native American soldier that is wearing his traditional (garb).”
There will be other events taking place at the museum in conjunction with the 100 faces of War exhibit, including a couple of return performances of Telling Pensacola. Anna Wall says these performances will be a perfect tie-in to the exhibit. “(Telling Pensacola) was performed in Pensacola in 2015, and this is a reprisal of the original cast. We’re going to have five of the six performers that originally did the show in Pensacola. And both the exhibitions and the performances really deal with humanizing soldiers, telling their stories both at war and then their transition home, and helping bridge the gap between soldiers and civilians.”
Telling Pensacola will be performed at the Pensacola Library on November 10 at 2 p.m., and at the museum in the gallery itself on November 11 at 11 a.m. There will be an opening reception for the 100 Faces of War exhibition at the Pensacola Museum of Art on Friday evening, November 8 at 6 p.m. That event is free and open to all. If you go, see if you can find the portrait of Daniel Blevins, an Air Force Master Sergeant from Pensacola.