Posted by: Amiris J. Brown on: April 2, 2012
This past Thursday I attended an exhibition, lecture, and reception given by the painter Laura Buxton. The exhibition focused on the Yugoslav Civil War during the Nineteen Nineties, and consisted of paintings along with sepia ink drawings. Other than the oil on board In Mourning Self Portrait of the Artist by Laura Buxton in 1995, there were no other people purposefully featured in any of the artworks on display. A reason for the absence of people was to capture the aftermath of war within Ruined Landscapes. My understanding was that utterly destroyed architectural structures alone could move an audience to understand the long-term costs of war.
I think Laura Buxton captured the historic architectural significance of loss. With crumbling architecture frozen in time by her hand, a person could feel the sorrow of human achievement being forsaken. Particularly, in the sepia on paper piece On the Boulevard: The Front Line East Mostar by Laura Buxton in 1994 showed that sorrow well. I also felt that Laura Buxton deeply expressed the psychological effect that loss had on the local communities still living among the ruins. The depicted perspective depth expressed in many of the sepia ink drawings was especially moving, as one could look through various distances within that moment of a building’s collapse. The best example of capturing such a moment can be seen in the oil on board painting of the Razvitak Department Store East Mostar 1994 by Laura Buxton. Depicting such a perspective is what Laura Buxton does best, as seen in some of her less politicized paintings.
Most of the artwork featured in this exhibition was created during the ceasefire under the Washington Agreement. My mother was deployed to aid the efforts of dismantling landmines in Bosnia, after the Dayton Agreement had been signed. I briefly lived in Durham, North Carolina for one year, prior to my mother leaving the United States. During my seventh grade year, I experienced a literal Black and White racial mentality among my peers. In addition I experienced varying forms of segregation for the first time in my life. It wasn’t until I returned to North Carolina to attend high school that I learned that the segregation was caused by racialized politics of the school redistricting. However, even the current Wake County schools of North Carolina would appear more culturally accepting than the starkly segregated schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina today.
Back when I was in seventh grade, I was taught how to use the Bulletin Board System (BBS) on the school’s library computers, so I could stay in touch if my mother got deployed during that school year. My mother ended up being deployed after I had finished my seventh grade year, so I ended up staying with my mother’s eldest sister in Lubbock, Texas during my eighth grade year. Regardless of being taught how to use a BBS, my mother and I communicated through snail mail and by phone. One day my mother sent me a photograph of herself in her United States military uniform standing by two civilian children. That picture made me want to further distance myself, because I didn’t understand why adults would willingly destroy the childhoods of their children within the crossfire of their hate.
It was very confusing to me as a young teenager that people of the same race, but different cultural ethnicity and religion, would not just hate each other but slaughter each other. If killing each other wasn’t enough, various factions strived to demoralize the other by attacking monuments deemed culturally significant. Things I still take for granted here in the United States. If a civil war was to ever break out again in the United States, I would expect monuments to remain untouched due to their shared historic cultural significance. Laura Buxton sorrowfully depicted to me that people who share the same national monuments would willing destroy such historical structures out of spite. An example of such spite can be seen in the sepia on paper Tito Most East Mostar 1994 by Laura Buxton, which depicted the destruction of the Mostar Bridge. During the lecture Laura Buxton gave, it was good to hear that the Mostar Bridge has recently been restored.
Instead of the mass graves, that I came accustomed to seeing on the international news segments about the Yugoslav Civil War while growing up, the art presented within this exhibition gave a very useful perspective. The viewer looking at Laura Buxton’s art, for a brief moment could fill the shoes of someone who witnessed the firsthand destruction of their everyday life. That kind of perspective would have been much more useful to me as a middle school student back then, than the bombardment of grotesque pictures of unearthed evidence of genocide. While conveying genocide to an international audience is very important to do, it was different for me as a young American during that time. Even today with the recent evidence of U.S. troops committing the same acts upon Iraq monuments, the media rarely tells the stories of our shared histories we as a global community have in common. Evidently what we have in common collectively is not enough for humanity to survive; so people must seek to celebrate our diversity instead of excluding ourselves.
Briant S. Davis