As today is Veterans Day, I’d like to share a little history about MoMA’s commitment to veterans, as well as some news about what we’re doing now. The Museum has a long history of serving veterans—dating back to the creation of the War Veterans’ Art Center, which opened in 1944 and served thousands of veterans through rehabilitative and pre-vocational art programs—and we are proud to continue in the same spirit today.
Over the past four years, Community and Access Programs educator Sally Paul has been leading a program with NYC veterans in partnership with Creative Arts Therapist Beryl Brenner of the Veteran Support Center at the Brooklyn VA. Through off-site studio workshops and visits to the Museum, the participating veterans discuss and create art, while also sharing their own views and experiences. This year we decided to mount an exhibition of their work in MoMA’s Cullman Education Building. Sally, Beryl, and I discussed possible ways the veterans could explore issues of identity through art, and Beryl had the brilliant idea of focusing on tattoo imagery and design. After all, long before tattoos were ubiquitous in popular culture, they were common among members of the armed forces.
The participating veterans—whose service dates as far back as Vietnam—loved the idea, and the Inked Identity exhibition was born. The group then learned block printing as a means of translating their ideas into art. The resulting works offer a candid and thought-provoking view into the life experiences and beliefs of the participating veterans. This past Wednesday, the Museum hosted an opening reception for the veterans and their families. Several veterans spoke about the how much it meant to them to be recognized at MoMA. As their art therapist Beryl Brenner put it in her remarks, “This is a wonderful, wonderful place. It’s part museum and part temple. The artists on exhibit here are all about freedom of expression and this is a place where veteran artists can come clean about who they are and live comfortably within their own skins. This is a place where they can learn about the power of the visual image and harness that power to achieve greater self-knowledge.” But perhaps workshop participant Louis Robert Cadet, Jr., put it most succinctly when he told us, “Many people do not get the opportunity to express themselves. Thank you for giving us the chance to express ourselves through art and make art a part of our healing process.”
Inked Identity: Veterans Explore Tattoos will be on view in the Cullman Education Building, located at 4 West 54 Street, through November 30.