The Things They Carried, and the Art of Healing

The Red & Black attended an art exhibit in Patchogue, showcasing the art and experiences of local veteran artists.

By: Nicole Niemiec, Staff Reporter


Boots on the Ground, Art by Maria Mia Salazar Photo by Nicole Neimiec

Throughout history, people have used art to express their feelings and desires. For some people, placing their thoughts and feelings into words is difficult. Sometimes one can’t even find the precise words to even begin to express their feelings. Sometimes it’s easier for a person to capture what they’re feeling in a visual expression. The Veteran Art Exhibit at the Artspace in Patchogue showcased many veterans’ experiences through the power of art.

As soon as one walks through the exhibit doors, one is met with the “Mask Project.” This project showcases masks designed by trauma patients from the Military Sexual Trauma Program at the VA Northport Hospital and Medical Center. These masks were made in an effort to advocate for veterans and military members who have experienced sexual trauma while in training or service. Flyers and fact sheets were littered on the table, outlining helpful services to get into contact with if one experienced sexual assault while in the military. Almost half of those who have told a MST provider that they’ve experienced Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, are men. Additionally, age, gender, race, size, and sexual orientation doesn’t factor into who experiences MST and who doesn’t. Veterans of all backgrounds equally experience MST. Fortunately for those who have experienced MST, Veterans Affairs offers free MST services to all, even if one isn’t eligible to receive other VA care. It’s never too late to take the first step to healing from MST.

These masks displayed every emotion imaginable and more. Between “I said NO. It should’ve been enough.” and “Stop the Madness. To be Aware is to Be Alive,” one is able to feel for these trauma patients. These men and women made the choice to serve our country, and unfortunately, they came back with scars that they never asked for and weren’t at fault of. According to the Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted in 2016. Although that is 5,400 fewer people than the 20,300 who were estimated in 2014, it is still too many.

In addition to the Mask Project, the exhibit showcased the works of many other veteran artists, including Harold Gubnitsky, Neil Leinwohl, Janene Gentile, Maria Mia Salazar, Joseph Acierno, Sean Fitzthum, James Miller, Edward Gregg, Richard Gardiner, Ron Rorie, Jenny Pacanowski, Manuel Adolfo, Mike Babulak, and exhibit curator, Dave Rogers. These artists showcased their feelings through paintings, photography, sculpture, and poetry.

“Art is an important tool for the military community. For veterans who come back with trauma and are carrying more stress than they can handle, taking part in the arts is an important method of therapy and healing.”

Rogers, after getting injured from his service, had no idea of what he wanted to do with his life after. Shortly after, he remembered that he had always wanted to get back into his art. Since then, he’s been focused not only on his art, but also on helping veterans get the service they need. He wants veterans to know the services that are available to them and where to find them. “This is my third year doing this Veteran Art Exhibit here. It gets bigger every year,” Rogers said during the reception. “They’re wonderful artists who share their experiences and joy for art.”


Times Square, Painting by Chuck Ferrara Photo by Nicole Neimiec

Art is an important tool for the military community. For veterans who come back with trauma and are carrying more stress than they can handle, taking part in the arts is an important method of therapy and healing. The NEA and Department of Defense are funding art projects and offering creative writing workshops and performing arts programs. These programs benefit veterans and soldiers, giving them a way to communicate their experiences. Not only does this help the veterans in a therapeutic way, but this also helps medical examiners to better understand these veterans’ conditions and better their treatments.

The Veteran Art Exhibit is running from November 5th to November 24th at the Artspace in Patchogue.

Read the Article here: PMHS Red and Black

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