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WAR INK Exhibit opens dialogue between Veterans and Civilians

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WAR INK Exhibit opens dialogue
between Veterans and Civilians

Mike Ergo with his childSonoma County Library is helping Americans struggling to find meaningful ways to honor the nation’s 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans by supporting WAR INK, a powerful new online exhibit that opens today. The honest and emotionally raw collection of original video, photography and audio interviews uses the memorial tattoos and words of 24 veterans to open a dialogue between civilians and returning vets.

Jeff SlaterSonoma County Library joined with 20 other California libraries to play a critical role in recruiting local veterans to participate in the WAR INK exhibit. From Sonoma County, U.S. Air Force veteran Heather Hayes is featured. As a depository for human stories and narratives, Sonoma County Library saw this exhibit as an ideal complement to its mission and is now actively promoting the exhibit.

“Libraries have a duty to provide resources to all citizens but place special emphasis on serving our returning veterans—a segment of our community that has been overlooked. Libraries also collect the stories that tell us who we are as a society,” says Jaime Anderson, Materials Management Division Manager.

“WAR INK emerged out of a need to recognize veterans’ stories of service and sacrifices and to bridge the divide between the veteran and civilian communities,” says WAR INK co-creator Jason Deitch, a former Army medic and military sociologist. “This is both an exhibit and a forum, using tattoos as a springboard for veterans to share their stories.”

Joel Booth with prosthetic legStark, beautiful, disturbing and often darkly humorous, the featured tattoos in WAR INK are a visual expression of memories and emotions that can be difficult for veterans to discuss openly. But the creators of WAR INK and the 24 men and women who bravely shared their stories and their tattoos hope their openness will help civilians develop a deeper understanding of their experiences and provide a safe entry point to honestly and authentically engage in a conversation.

“Veterans need ways to reconnect with their communities,” says Chris Brown, WAR INK co-creator and senior manager at the Contra Costa County Library, which will launch the program along with over 20 other libraries throughout California. “As librarians we’re pleased to play a part in bridging that gap and sharing the poignant stories of our veterans.”

Victoria LordThe sudden transition from war to civilian life leaves many vets facing deep feelings of alienation and isolation. Tattoos, Brown and Deitch explain, are a shared form of expression between many civilians and vets, and offer a unique gateway to conversations which can begin to build that community.

 “Every tattoo on my body tells a story,” says WAR INK veteran Ron “Doc” Riviera of Santa Cruz, California. “If people would just ask, they wouldn’t get a movie or a book, they would get the real thing.”

Elegantly produced, WAR INK walks visitors through four multimedia chapters. In the veterans’ own words, they remind guests that “We Were You” by sharing their experiences before they entered the military. The “Changed Forever” chapter is a searing examination of the horrors of war, followed by “Living Scars,” a candid look at the physical and emotional wounds of their military experiences. The exhibit’s final chapter, “Living Not Surviving,” tells of the challenges veterans face, but also of their strength and resilience as they try and return to their communities.”

Tracy L. Cooper-HarrisTo tell the WAR INK story, Dietch and Brown assembled an impressive coalition of diverse partners, including the StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative and premier photographer Johann Wolf. Video for the site was directed by filmmaker Rebecca Murga and the online exhibit was designed by Favorite Medium.

WAR INK was supported in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian, and made possible with support from the following funders and donors: Cal Humanities, the Pacific Library Partnership and StoryCorps.

Support for veterans begins by really listening to their stories and experiences. Visit the WAR INK exhibit at www.warink.org.  

Joel Booth - the end of war