Unfinished Portrait: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan

A work that brings us face-to-face with some of those who have died in the US-led invasions and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfinished Portrait, acrylic gouache, 2008 (continuing.)

The work so far has seventy-eight 12 x 12 x 3/8 inch panels painted in desert-camouflage colors to represent the first 344,926 people who have died in these wars.

Below is one of thirty-eight panels that is painted with 8,836 small dots representing faces of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani children (the tiniest dots you see), women, and men who have died in these wars. Together, these panels represent 335,768 faces.

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According to the ‘Costs of War’ project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, at least 370,000 people have been killed by violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. This does not include the many hundreds of thousands more who have died as a result of the destruction of hospitals and infrastructure, and because of environmental contamination.

More than 6,800 American service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Below is an example of the remaining thirty-nine panels that together represent 4,680 painted portraits of U.S. soldiers killed in action. Each 12 x 12 inch panel has 120 faces. This does not include the approximately 7,000 private contractors who have died, nor does it include the roughly 43,000 allied troops and police who have died.

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Scattered among the images of fallen American soldiers are camouflage squares that increase in number toward the center of the work, representing suicides by US military personnel. Since 2001, the suicide rate among Veterans has increased by nearly a third, with an average of 20 veteran suicides a day in 2014.

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One panel in the center of the work shows all – portraits of fallen soldiers, suicides, Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani deaths, merging as one.

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Had deaths of the fallen soldiers been represented in the same manner as those of the Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani victims depicted here, the entire collection of American faces, including suicides, would occupy approximately a little more than half of a single 12 x 12 inch panel.

On the other hand, if the faces of the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan who have died could have been painted, as I was able to do for the Americans, and if that had been done at the same pace at which I worked on this project, that work might have occupied the entire careers of seven artists.

However we attempt to represent them, the 370,000 people killed by violence in Iraq and Afghanistan are at least 125 times as many as died in the 9/11 attacks, the events that were used as a rationale for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Please go here to track the history of Unfinished Portrait, and here for an article on the evolution of this project.

Below is a slideshow of the seventy-eight panels. Please go here for a GigaPan view of the installation.

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Approximately 370,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The number of people who have been wounded or have fallen ill as a result of the conflicts is far higher.  

Many [U.S. service members] died later on from injuries and illnesses sustained in the war zones. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and contractors have been wounded and are living with disabilities and war-related illnesses.

Millions of people living in the war zones have also been displaced by war. To date, 7.6 million Afghans, Pakistanis, and Iraqis are living as war refugees in other countries or are displaced from their homes.

The US invasion of Iraq has turned the country into a laboratory in which militant groups such as Islamic State have been able to hone their techniques of recruitment and violence. The formation of jihadi groups now spreading throughout the region counts among the many human costs of that war.

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