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Art Therapy: Airport Exhibit Shines Light on Works by Female Vets

March 26, 2021 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News

Art is therapeutic, and it’s often used as an outlet for service members and veterans to process stress and trauma. 

A painting depicts an American flag crinkled into the shape of a heart.
Dulles veteran artwork
Air Force veteran Cristin Dy said her painting, "Love America," reminds us that during our nation’s weakest moments, we can stay united through love, kindness and patience.
Photo By: Cristin Dy
VIRIN: 210326-O-ZZ999-103

Now that air travel is picking back up again, travelers flying through Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., might notice some artwork that has a patriotic feel. Pieces done by several female veterans are currently on display there to commemorate Women’s History Month. 

Many of the artists are veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Collectively, they’ve dealt with a lot of battlefield and personal trauma, and they've learned to heal through the power of the arts.

A small grid is superimposed over a painting of a pilot.
Dulles veteran artwork
Air Force veteran Cynthia Scott's digital and analogue collage, "The Fool," asks the question, "How do I reconnect to a sense of wonder?"
Photo By: Cynthia Scott
VIRIN: 210326-O-ZZ999-104

"I create art because it is an important process for me to understand the world," said Iraq War veteran Amber Zora, who also has a master’s degree in photography and integrated media. "Art is a tool to convey stories and share histories. I benefit from interacting with other veterans, specifically veteran women, who are moved by my work, had similar experiences and share their stories with me."

One striking piece, called "Her Voices" by Army veteran Christina Polosky-Helferich, contains the last names and dates of death of all 149 female soldiers killed in action over the past 20 years. 

A wooden panel depicting the American flag is inscribed with names and dates.
Dulles veteran artwork
Army veteran Christina Helferich-Polosky created "Her Voice" out of a wooden panel she burned and stained. It contains the last names and dates of death for each of the 149 female soldiers killed in action as part of the war on terror.
Photo By: Christina Helferich-Polosky
VIRIN: 210326-O-ZZ999-105

"I didn’t make this to say their deaths are any more or less important than their male counterparts," Polosky-Helferich said. "However, 'Her Voices' does want to confront and recognize that over 98% of the names burned into this patriotic surface are soldiers killed in combat before our country officially allowed women to serve on the front lines in 2016."

The pieces on display at the exhibit run the gamut -- from photographs, to mixed media made of fibrous materials and metal, to a piece artist Leigh Cortez made that included stretched, sausage-like casing.

A five-panel painting with a lot of colors and themes.
Dulles veteran artwork
Army veteran Leigh Cortez's painting, "Til the Death," incorporates acrylic on canvas, along with stretched bovine and porcine casing.
Photo By: Leigh Cortez
VIRIN: 210326-O-ZZ999-106

"This material reacts with the mash of tattoo imagery painted on the canvas panels," explained Cortez, an Army veteran, military wife and tattoo artist. "Whereas, the tattoo imagery questions a superficial narrative of military culture; the bovine intestine panels represent a more intimate reality of military life."

The artwork will remain in Dulles’ concourse C near the AeroTrain station until May. Many of the pieces are available for purchase. 

An African-inspired fabric headwrap and mask sits atop a mashup of newspaper articles and headlines.
Dulles veteran artwork
Army veteran April Goodwin-Gill created her work, "Mask Up," from found objects.
Photo By: April Goodwin-Gill
VIRIN: 210326-O-ZZ999-107
A photo of a woman from behind. Her hair is in a bun.
Dulles veteran artwork
"Spilt Milk" by Army veteran Amber Zora is a self portrait that denies the traditional military portrait and male gaze.
Photo By: Amber Zora
VIRIN: 210326-O-ZZ999-108

The exhibit was set up through the nonprofit Uniting US, which helps inspire, empower and unite families through art. The group is also inviting artists in the military community to enter their original artwork for possible inclusion in an exhibit this summer called Summer of Healing with the Arts. The artwork will be displayed at the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

More exhibits from veterans are expected to be displayed at Dulles and Reagan National Airport over the next four years.