Story by Timothy Clarke
Scars of wounded warriors from the Vietnam era to present-day conflicts are the focus of a new exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
“Scarred for Life: Using Art to Bring Humanity to Trauma Recovery” is the work of artist and advocate Ted Meyer, a Los-Angeles based painter who is continuing a long association with NMHM with this new exhibit.
Meyer’s “scar art” of Wounded Warriors conveys his subjects’ experiences in the service, their injuries, and their recovery. The portraits powerfully evoke the dedication, persistence, and humanity of service members who fought and sacrificed for their country. Apart from wanting to tell the stories of America’s heroes and their sacrifices, the series also holds personal meaning to Meyer.
“For a long time I didn’t want to do scars of veterans,” said Meyer. “Other people with closer ties already had veteran/scar art projects going on. Then my nephew came home from three tours in Iraq and committed suicide. His mother asked me to start this series as a way to start a conversation about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sacrifice.”
Meyer has been producing “scar art” such as those in this exhibit for nearly 20 years. His work has been showcased at the United Nations, UCLA and galleries overseas. The current show at NMHM is the first installation of these works in the Washington, D.C. area.
Meyer’s project was a way to chronicle the trauma and courage of people who have lived through accidents and health crises. It started as an art project with the idea of making something beautiful from scars and trauma, said Meyer. Over time, it turned into a full-fledged documentation project incorporating photos, stories, print and video of over 100 people scarred in a variety of ways and under different circumstances.
Meyer paints his subject’s scars, then takes a reverse impression of the scar on paper, and further embellishes and highlights the scar print, to call out the depth and detail he observed up close while working with his subject. The final product conveys the trauma to the body in a stark, undeniable manner that viewers can observe up close, while Meyer pairs the viscera of the scar with an oral history he collected from his subject, letting the veteran share their story alongside the “scar art” itself.
“I’m hoping that people seeing the exhibit will see what happens to people who ship out to war, while the other 99% of us stay and home and watch the battle on T.V. – these people walked the walk, and came home scarred and damaged. Most people never think of them once they are home and in rehab. People insist on a strong military, and many want it used often. That is all good, but these people volunteered to be on the front lines. We should acknowledge their sacrifice and realize these same scars will appear on future warriors,” Meyer said.
The “scar art” and profiles of the individual veterans are supplemented with short video presentations. The videos are the work of producer Brian Knappmiller and include footage showing the process of Meyer painting his subject’s scars.
“Scarred for Life: Using Art to Bring Humanity to Trauma Recovery” is on display at NMHM in Silver Spring, Md., through February 2017. NMHM is open daily (including weekends and holidays, except Dec. 25.) from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission and parking are free. Visit MedicalMuseum.mil or the Facebook page for more information.