‘Eyes Wide Open’ displays the war

According to Hebrew Scriptures, the Garden of Eden, where human life burst forth, was located in what is now Iraq. In this land civilization began, and humans created the wheel, the earliest system of writing, and the first legal code for social justice.

Since 1979, Iraqis lived under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein in which many minority groups experienced severe repression and human rights abuses. Quality of life for the majority of Iraqis plummeted after the first Gulf War, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, and sanctions crippled the economy.

This introduction was part of Eyes Wide Open, a multimedia exhibition that explores the effects of the Iraq war on Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers. You can see, hear and feel the impact of this war and the first Persian Gulf War, because Eyes Wide Open will be on display at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, 4848 Turner St. (just west of Rockford College four blocks north of State Street). Moreover, you will see the suffering caused by a decade of subjection to U.N. and U.S. sanctions. Finally, the event marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq.

The exhibition was created by the American Friends Service Committee, together with the University Ministry of Loyola University in Chicago. A display panel explains the organization’s objective: “AFSC educates the U.S. public about the effects of militarism and promotes nonviolent solutions to conflict.” AFSC has two staff representatives in Iraq. Through humanitarian projects, they have provided relief assistance to Iraqi civilians.

Michael McConnell, regional director, Great Lakes AFSC told the Associated Press that Iraqis suffer from a lack of security. The feeling of chaos permeates among the Iraqi people because the war puts them at greater risk.

One way this feeling is expressed is through a display of 10,000-plus bullet casings. Alongside a plowshare sculpture lined with gold, color-coated-bullet shells, a floor sign states they “…represent the Iraqi civilians killed in the ongoing Iraq War.”

Another dimension of the exhibit is the 32 feet of panels (8-feet-high). They contain eyewitness accounts and pictures that illustrate the Iraqis’ years of afflictions. Black-and-white photographs by Linda Panetta and Lorna Tythostud surround facts compiled by Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF’s senior representative in Iraq. Color photographs of the Iraqi people communicate snapshots of lives. These images are displayed on the walls, along windows and on the room’s columns. People experience the visual images from different angles. At the time of this publication, credits for the color photos were not available.

At first glance, there are photographs of boys and girls with their mothers and fathers. Then, the realities of their lives invade the senses. They have experienced bombings and seen dead bodies. Many of them live in the ruins of buildings, where their bare feet walk on remnants of glass, metal and rubble. Scenes of the destruction are captured in the exhibit.

The vertical alignment of photographs embedded in the panels, positioned next to narrative and informational text, looks like a documentary in pause mode. The stillness is an experience of moments, depictions of life in Iraq, over linear and cyclical time. It feels like on-the-ground coverage, not prevalent in mainstream media.

In the corner of the room is a TV It plays media footage of interviews and public speeches by the Bush Administration. The audio repeats the terror repeated in speeches of terror in the terrorist network because terrorists are instruments of terror, and the terror of these incessant statements terrorizes the mind with the thought that thousands of people, such as this man, have permanent, physical disabilities, for the repetition of this word.

A lime green sofa is in front of the television. It looks out of place. The comfort level needed for the absorption of truth can drive the average person into either action or insanity.

On a computer is a counter that clicks the cost of the Iraq War. It was $106,908,058,775 and counting.

Across the room is a photo of a woman who stands next to art work. Through people, Iraqi culture survives war. Her almond eyes possess a stream of narratives.

On top of a column is a pair of dried, mud-caked, leather shoes. They represent the shoes worn by Iraqi men in the war. Underneath the shoes is a picture of a dead man. The photograph emphasizes his burned legs and bare feet. So many Iraqi men died this way.

Through the lens of this exhibit, people touch artistic expression of this war. They see the amount of energy and money that goes into the justification for war and its execution. Most important, they see the Iraqi people, who began the civilization of the world.

The display is viewable Monday through Friday, May 6 – 19, 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., and Saturday – Sunday, noon – 4 p.m. Call the church for more information (815) 398-6322.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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