Artist: Russ Smith
“Fallujah Blues” is the title of Russ Smith's provocative multi-media anti-war sculptural installation piece. This traveling installation has been described by art critics as powerful, harrowing, and searing. A small-scale version of “Fallujah Blues” was first displayed at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston in October of 2005. Larger incarnations of this work have also been exhibited at the Starpin Gallery in Shelton, Connecticut, as part of the gallery's national juried Wood Water War show in March/April 2006; at the Courthouse Center for the Arts (CCA) in West Kingston, Rhode Island during the month of April 2006; at AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island in June 2006; and in 2008 at both the Machines with Magnets gallery in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Massachusetts, as part of the "Experiencing the War in Iraq" international group exhibition.
To read the text of an interview with Smith concerning the CCA installation, please visit the "Fallujah Blues Interview" page at this site by clicking on www.russsmith.org/fallujahbluesinterview.htm. To read a Providence Journal review of the AS220 installation, please visit the "Press Reviews" page at this site by clicking on www.russsmith.org/pressreviews.htm. To read a South County Independent review of the CCA installation, as well as a review of the CCA installation published in the August/September 2006 issue of Art New England, please visit the "Press Reviews" page at this site by clicking on www.russsmith.org/pressreviews.htm. The "Fallujah Blues Journal" page at this site (www.russsmith.org/fallujahbluesjournal.htm) includes the comments of gallery visitors concerning the installation.
With this work, Smith seeks to educate and enlighten the public about several aspects of the ongoing war in Iraq by examining in detail the horrific deaths of four American mercenaries in the city of Fallujah, Iraq on March 31, 2004, and the bloody reprisal that followed. The installation combines carefully chosen artistic imagery with the display of text regarding the war and how it is being waged.
Smith uses the events of March 31, 2004 as a point of departure to create some sense of the horror of the war in Iraq, employing powerful visual imagery to elicit an emotional response from viewers. Ultimately, the work aims to both shock and educate.
On March 31, 2004, four Americans were killed in Fallujah. They were working for Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based private military company providing security services to the United States government. Scott Helvenston, Michael Teague, Jerry Zovko, and Wesley Batalona were shot and killed as they drove their SUVs through the heart of the city. An angry mob dragged the men’s bodies from the burning vehicles. The charred corpses were ripped apart, stomped on, dragged through the streets, and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.
Grisly images of the attack flashed across television screens and jumped out from newspaper front pages all around the world. The horror of the war, and the intense hatred of America in that part of the world, registered with a new and glaring clarity.
While only time will tell, the graphic photographs and video footage of the killings may ultimately serve as a timeless icon of the Iraq War, in much the same way that the June 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of nine-year-old Kim Phuc, shown naked, burned, and screaming as she fled her village after a napalm attack by the South Vietnamese army, came to define the human costs of the Vietnam War.
In November 2004, the United States launched a massive assault, dubbed "Operation Phantom Fury", upon the inhabitants of Fallujah. Thousands were killed, and much of the city was destroyed. It was later shown that the U.S. used incendiary white phosphorus (or "Willy Pete" in military slang) during the assault.
The events of March 31, 2004, and the subsequent military retaliation upon Iraqi civilians, are at the heart of “Fallujah Blues” and serve as a launching pad for a focused examination of several troubling aspects of the war in Iraq. Smith delves into disturbing questions raised by the privatization of modern warfare, and the links (financial and otherwise) between the people behind Blackwater and the Bush administration. The installation also highlights the huge “disconnect” that always seems to exist between those who fight and die in times of war and those in power who decide when and where to wage war, by describing what George W. Bush himself was up to on March 31, 2004.
Graphic and disturbing photographic evidence of the United States' use of Willy Pete during Operation Phantom Fury is displayed as part of Smith's "Fallujah Blues" installation.
Smith was part of a select group of national and international artists chosen to participate in "Experiencing the War in Iraq," a traveling multi-media art exhibition which visited several Rhode Island and Massachusetts venues during the spring of 2008. Click on www.russsmith.org/pressreviews.htm to read a review of the version of 'Fallujah Blues" contributed by Smith to this 2008 exhibition.