Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Silvia Tennenbaum, 1928 – 2016

We are sad to report that Silvia Tennenbaum passed away at age 88.

The author of novels and short stories, including the best-seller Rachel the Rabbi's Wife, Silvia will also be remembered for her bright blue eyes, her love of the Mets, and her progressive politics.  She was smart and kind and generous.  I was sad to get the news that she passed away this summer.

My daughters remember Silvia as the smiling writer with the blue hair.  Her hair was lovely and white, but she took to adding a swipe of bright blue hair color... sassy and unexpected... just like she was.  

Silvia Tennenbaum in her studio at VCCA (photo by Lois Lord)
Silvia was one of the first Fellows I met at VCCA. She had a long, wonderful history at Mt. San Angelo where she had been in residence fifteen times.  She first came to VCCA in 1984, and she had great stories to tell about the early days at VCCA.  She loved baseball and would organize us to go to watch the minor league team in Lynchburg.  The team was called the L-Sox early on, and she talked of watching Darryl Strawberry play there before he went to the Majors and the Mets.  She continued to attend the ball games when the team became the Lynchburg Hillcats.

She also had a deep connection to Lynchburg where she lived from 1951 to 1958 as the rabbi's wife.  Although she talked of moving to Lynchburg at one point, East Hampton, New York, was home to her. 

In addition to Rachel the Rabbi's Wife, she was the author of the novel Yesterday's Streets, for which she received the Goethe Medal of the Hessian Ministry for Science and Art in 2012.  She was touched by the honor and proud to be fêted in her native Germany which she had fled when she was ten years old. 

In an application to VCCA, she said that her life and work have been a search for her identity. She said, "I am still trying to chart the passage, the long road through sunlit landscapes, the melodies of the languages that compete in my head, the passions unleashed by my exile, my escape into life."   We were happy to have been with her during part of that search.

Silvia was deeply connected to VCCA. "I love the VCCA more than any other place I've been", she said in one of her evaluations.  It was wonderful to see the ease with which she entered life here.  It was a creative home for her. Somehow, I always thought she'd be back for another residency.  I'm sorry that I won't be seeing her twinkling blue eyes again...and the radical blue patch of hair above them.

-Sheila Gulley Pleasants

Friday, August 19, 2016

In Memoriam: Joellyn Toler Duesberry

VCCA has learned the sad news that landscape painter, Joellyn Toler Duesberry died on August 5, 2016 at age 72, died. The cause was of pancreatic cancer.

Joellyn was born and brought up in Richmond, Virginia. A summa cum laude graduate of Smith College, she also held an M.A. in art history from New York University’s the Institute of Fine Arts. She received a Woodrow Wilson scholarship and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She had two residencies at VCCA in 2009 and 2014.

Joellyn became interested in the landscape as a young child while traveling on a train, where she was fascinated by the scenery passing by her window.
Joellyn worked as a fine art appraiser in New York City, painting on the side. Her NEA grant allowed her to focus more time on panting. As her career blossomed, she acquired a second home in Millbrook, New York, where she reveled in the landscape as painter and inhabitant.
Joellyn’s work was featured in many solo and group exhibitions. It is in the collections of museums in New York, Maine, Virginia, California, the Denver Art Museum and others in Colorado where she moved following her marriage to Ira J. Kowal in 1986.
Besides her husband, Joellyn leaves her sister Pat Washko, stepdaughters Rebekah Kowal (David Bullwinkle) and Jessica Kowal (Blaine Harden) and grandchildren Lucinda & Arno Harden and Noah & Isaac Bullwinkle.
VCCA extends its heartfelt condolences to Joellyn’s family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Alexander Lumans: Pushing into Unknown Territories

While in residence at VCCA, Alexander Lumans was working on a novel inspired by his recent experience at The Arctic Circle Residency. The three-week program takes place in the international territory of Svalbard, a mountainous Arctic archipelago just 10 degrees from the North Pole, on a traditionally rigged barquentine. The program brings together an international group of artists, scientists, architects and educators to experience this remote area of the world, fostering the creation and exhibition of new and pioneering work inspired by the engagement with this fascinating region. 

Alexander’s novel is set on a tall ship with an international crew who’ve been hired by a filmmaker working on climate change documentary. “Things begin to go south pretty quickly when the ship receives a distress signal from another ship in the area that’s lost. The captain decides to go after the lost one; after this stranger things begin to occur—they too become lost and end up having to save themselves.”

Rather than plot out the sequence of events, he’s left a lot of mystery as to where the second half of the book is going because that’s how he writes: letting the direction of the novel be discovered along the way.

There’s a level of adventure to the story, but there’s social commentary and ecological commentary built in to the subject. It’s also interesting to me that it takes place in contemporary times rather than being an historical narrative. There’s tons of whaling or exploration narratives out there and some are fantastic, but I can’t find a contemporary one. So I think that’s an untapped moment to say this still goes on. To relegate it to the past is to not treat it with the full spectrum of awareness. This is still a place that exists. It’s still a relevant area and a relevant mode of transportation.”

“I had an idea of what the tone and the language would be like and then I took a workshop in Denver with novelist Ben Lerner. He made this incredible point regarding the manuscript. He said, you’re entering into a conversation with all of these maritime narratives from the past and to ignore them is doing your book a disservice. It’s more interesting if you actually bring them to the foreground in the narration itself, explicitly alluding to them. You can make your captain an archetypal ship’s captain and actually play against this; it makes for more tension and more surprise and interest. He might have stereotypical tropes about him—maybe he has an anchor tattoo, but also you have him have asthma and need an inhaler. So you have this past and present connecting together. That, to me, opened up the book. It enabled me to talk about whatever, rather than feeling hemmed in by all the things that have come before. It has allowed me to read all those great books and incorporate their ideas into the narrative. This is how a contemporary voice emerges because you’re building off of what came before. What Ben told me has had such a big impact on this project; it’s changed it completely.”

The idea for his novel arose as Alexander researched the residency and did the application process. “The more I planned for the trip, the more I thought about my proposed project and started to formulate it more in terms of the plot, characters and setting, while also letting it be kind of distanced because I knew whatever I thought was going to change as a result of this trip. I let it be very loose going into the residency and I came out with a variety of experiences, atmospheres, feelings that I draw on every day now for this project.”

He knew that The Arctic Circle Residency experience would be key to writing his book. “I wanted to understand the area by interacting with it, as opposed to watching National Geographic videos, which are still amazing, but it’s not the same as being there. In the capacity we did it, it felt as if everyone was able to interact with the landscape in a very specific way. I couldn’t have predicted that either, but watching how everyone’s projects on the residency engaged, not only the landscape, but the culture around the landscape and the culture around the Arctic in general was really impressive and powerful and I came back from it, not completely changed, but a very changed person.”

Accompanied by 28 other artists from around the world, Alexander was on the residency during the last three weeks of June. Despite the 24-hour daylight, it was very cold. On deck, typical wear would be a long sleeved base layer, a sweater, down-filled jacket and then a windproof, rainproof jacket on top.

“Unlike VCCA where you have a lot of open time to really produce work and craft your project, there it was much more about the exposure and the experience. You did have some time to actually create every day, but it wasn’t open like this, where you’re left to your own devices and come together at meals, there you had a very strict schedule.”

On the days that the ship was under sail, the artists were encouraged to help out, raising the rigging and dropping the sails. “A ship like that with 14 sails raised is so unbelievable and helping out with that was very important to me because my novel is about sailing on a similar ship.“

When not being chartered by The Arctic Circle Residency for its twice-yearly residency programs, the ship takes passengers on tours of the area. “The crew told us the difference between the typical tourist and us artists is that when making a landing in front of a glacier, for instance, the tourist would get off the ship, go on land, take pictures of the glacier, turn around, take pictures of the boat, maybe take pictures of the landscape and then say, alright I’m ready to go back on board. Sure, we artists would take pictures, but we would also sit and look at things and be completely content doing just that. It was a small but fundamental difference in terms of the way we experienced it.”

Reflecting on The Arctic Circle Residency, Alexander says, “My personality is very interested in pushing into unknown territories and seeing what’s out there, especially with the Arctic. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of those three weeks and dream about going back.”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

NEA-Supported Military Veteran Writer Maurice Decaul at VCCA

A former Marine, poet, essayist and playwright, Maurice Emerson Decaul was at VCCA on an NEA grant supporting military veteran artists. Maurice, who served in Iraq, divides his time between New York and Providence, RI where he is a graduate student in the Theater and Performance Studies program at Brown University.

In February, Maurice was named as the first artist-in-residence at Theater Communications Group (TCG), an organization founded to foster communication between the theater communities in the professional, community and university realms. Bringing his perspectives as both artist and veteran, Maurice is tasked with overseeing the launch of the Veterans Theater Institute (VTI), a pilot program for veterans and active military that allows them to experience, study and create theater. The initiative is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Building Demand for the Arts program.

VTI will continue and strengthen the relationship TCG has developed with its Blue Star Theaters (BST) program, which works with active military and their families engaging them with theater, and funding the creation and production of new plays.

The seeds for VTI were planted when Maurice attended a playwriting boot-camp playwright Paula Vogel held while she was developing her play, Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq at the Wilma Theater (a Blue Star Theater, in Philadelphia)“She invited a bunch of us vets into a room with her to write. We did four boot-camp sessions over the course of a year and we all wrote plays and provided input, which helped her form the character of Don Juan, a Marine Captain, serving in Ramadi in 2004.

“I had a conversation with Paula and she said that every year she wanted to do a workshop where she’d take a group of vets to some place beautiful and teach them playwriting. So when TCG approached me, I was clear that this was based on Paula’s idea, but I wanted to expand it. Instead of being once a year, let’s actually partner up with universities and create a curriculum that can go on indefinitely, if we have enough funding. So that’s where it came from. It happened at the right time for me. I began as a poet and I was transitioning into playwriting. It felt like a natural step. I was interested in finding different ways of telling stories and signed up for a playwriting class at Columbia. It was my very last class.”

Maurice has a clear strategy to inspire veteran involvement. “If you want to build demand, you have to start at the base level with young people in the theater as makers: writers and actors within our community,” says Maurice. “We’ve seen this happen with actor Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), a former Marine. AITA, the organization founded by Adam and his wife Joanne Tucker, bring shows to military audiences around the world. I’ve been to a few of those shows. They do one every year in New York City around Veterans Day. They have used the American Airlines Theater, the tickets are free, and the show is packed with military vets and their families. There’s a pretty healthy population. Vets in New York who come to the show every year because Adam’s on stage. He’s one of us, he just happened to go into theater. We’ve got to build VTI organically overtime. This will not only develop theater audiences, but also ensure veterans’ stories get told.”

VTI will eventually be prototyped in four locations: Providence RI, San Diego California, Fayetteville North Carolina and Tempe/Phoenix Arizona. The approach will be holistic. “If you would like to write, we’ll have playwriting available, if you prefer working on the technical side of theater, we’ll make that available." Maurice has found that certain disciplines are more popular in different areas: “Our partners in San Diego are much more interested in teaching playwriting, so we’re going develop a curriculum focused on that there. In North Carolina, our partner is more about developing technicians, so we’ll focus on technical theater there, and at Arizona State, because the population is so large and because of the interests of the partnering institution, we will teach a combination of arts and tech based classes.”

Maurice arrived at VCCA with the intention of finishing a first draft of a play he started just before he came. “It’s not finished, it’s just a draft; there’s no expectation that it can get up on its feet. I just wanted to get the ideas down.” He next turned his attention to a libretto on Portsmouth, Virginia native Sissieretta Jones, a turn-of-the-century opera singer who was the first African-American to perform at Carnegie Hall.

When Sissieretta was a child, her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island where Maurice lives part-time about a block away from where her house once stood. One of the premier opera singers of her day, Sissieretta toured Europe, the Caribbean and the U.S.—even into the south, and played for U.S. presidents. She gave up her career to take care of her mother when she became ill. Sissieretta went from making $2,000 a week at the height of her career to being almost penniless upon her death. Maurice is not sure whether his libretto, which takes the form of double sonnets, will eventually be performed as an opera or not. At VCCA, he set himself the ambitious goal of writing two sonnets a day. Fortunately, he writes fast. When his draft is done, he will put it away for a period of time before he revisits. “I’ll come back to it in a couple of months and see what I actually have.”

Maurice found VCCA both a beautiful and also a very generative environment. In addition to everything else he did, he also wrote poems. “I wasn’t planning on doing that–it just happened. Just walking the grounds and seeing the bunnies. It’s been a good experience.”

Maurice’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany, Callaloo, Narrative, The Common and others. His poems have been translated into French and Arabic and his theater pieces have been produced at New York City's Harlem Stage, Poetic License Festival in New York City, Washington DC's Atlas INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL in 2013 and 2014, l’Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris, The Paris Banlieues Bleues Festival, The Middelhein Jazz Festival in Antwerp, The Avignon Theatre Festival in France and Détours de Babel, The Grenoble Festival, Grenoble France, Arizona State University Gammage Memorial Auditorium, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center and the Park Avenue Armory in NYC, The Mary L Welch Theatre at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Brown University. His album, “Holding it Down”, a collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd was The LA Times Jazz Album of the year in 2013.Maurice has been the recipient of fellowships from Callaloo and Cave Canem

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In Memoriam: Composer Charles Bestor

VCCA has recently learned of the death of composer Charles Bestor who died in on January 16, 2016 at the age of 92.

A graduate of Swarthmore (Phi Beta Kappa), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Charles held a doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Charles also studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University and Vincent Persichetti and Peter Menin at the Juilliard School and independently, with Vladimir Ussachevsky. He served in the Navy during World War II.

Charles began his teaching career at the Juilliard School in 1958. Acting as the Julliard Orchestra manager he accompanied the orchestra on their State Department sponsored European tour, joined by his wife, Ann and their three sons. He then moved on to the University of Colorado at Boulder and from there he became the dean of the music school at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon and head of music at the University of Alabama and the University of Utah where he received commissions from the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In 1977 the family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, Ann Bestor's hometown where Charles became head of the music and dance department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It was here that Charles would really assume the role of composer.

In addition to VCCA, where he was in residence 13 times between 1987 and 2006, Charles had residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Ragdale and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland). At the time of his death he was working on a double CD set of his music entitled "The Summing Up" (available on Albany Records).

Charles also collaborated with visual artist and VCCA Fellow Barbara Cornett and the lighting designer John Wade on the installations “Cycles and Time” and “The River's Flow”, both commissioned by Randolph College’s Maier Museum of American Art in Lynchburg, “Into the Labyrinth”, commissioned by the Fine Arts Center of the Virginia Museum in Lynchburg and “The Unfound Door”, commissioned by the College Music Society. His collaboration with Sherry Healy, “Pathways” from the “Dream Spell Series” was installed at the Chicago International Art Expo at Navy Pier.

After his wife died in 1999, Charles set up the
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Endowment Fund through the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust to honor her and their 47-year union. Charles leaves their six children: Charles and Geoff, both of Washington D.C., Phill of Pittsburgh, Leslie Ann of Amherst, MA, Wendy of Taiwan, and Simsbury, CT, and Jenner of Amherst, MA. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Charles’s family and wide circle of students and friends

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

NEA-Supported Writer Anna Stull Speaks about her Experiences in Iraq

A medically retired Captain in the Army Nurse Corps, writer Anna Stull came to VCCA on a fellowship funded by the NEA supporting military veteran artists. Anna is writing a memoir of her experiences deployed to Abu Ghraib Prison in 2006 and as Saddam Hussein’s nurse while detailed to the Iraqi High Tribunal Court during the Al-Anfal Trial.

Anna began writing soon after her return from Iraq as a form of therapy. Over the course of three years as she wrote, she gained clarity about what she had been through. Once she realized, it’s okay; I’m okay, as opposed to, I’m still wounded, she felt able to move into a more didactic mind frame and begin writing in a serious way about her experiences. “In the beginning, I was nervous about putting anything in print that had anything to do with my co-workers,” she says. “And then I realized, I’m not writing about them; it’s my story and I’m writing about events. I figured out a way that makes it possible for me to address what I need to address and not make it punitive.“

Raised in a liberal academic family, Anna seems an unlikely person to join the armed forces, although she’d had a variety of physically challenging, often dangerous jobs: EMT, wild land firefighter and ski patrol member. But saddled with debt from nursing school at UNC, Chapel Hill and with a kindergartener to support (whom she would be separated from for 20 months while she was deployed), the military offered a good solution. “I wasn’t excited about nursing when I graduated; I’d always had jobs that were out of doors and I felt very strongly that regardless of political affiliation, our service people deserve good healthcare. I did my clinicals at Duke and learned good critical thinking skills. I like to think that had some benefit beyond direct patient care. I thought maybe I could handle, possibly even, a leadership role. I don’t even know how to explain it—there was a calling.”

As if Iraq weren’t enough of a challenging experience, before being deployed there, Anna was sent to New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina as part of an emergency medical team. She was there for three months. On Halloween, she learned she would be stationed at Abu Ghraib. Before deploying, Anna was sent to Wisconsin for preparatory detainee healthcare training. The instructors were part of a reserve group; they’d never been deployed and had no experience with corrections. “It was the most ridiculous training I’ve ever had in my entire life. They basically taught us that we were going to be shanked to death with a pencil and to never ever have a pen in your hand. There was just a half a day of language instruction with 450 people in a huge auditorium learning to say, Hello, are you in pain? My name is…and then they put us on a plane and we went to Iraq. I was like, okay our patient population primarily speaks Arabic; you’ve given us half a day. We’re going into an internment facility that is fraught with problems, not only the atrocities that happened in 2003, but since 1968, the facility has functioned as a torture house for up to a half a million people under the Ba’athist regime. We didn’t get any history lessons, there was no explanation of what the facilities looked like, what to expect…nothing. I wasn’t scared as much as I was very aware of how ill prepared we were and that all panned out. You know when people say I really hate being right? Yeah, that was one of those times.”

At Abu Ghraib, 12,000 detainees were housed in tents. There were enormous Eureka tents that held 500, all the way down to small tents, which held ten men. Your threat level determined where you’d end up. “For the first three months, my job wasn’t in the ER. I was out in the camps as the diabetes nurse. Out of the total patient population there were probably 70 patients spread out over 240 acres. So, every morning I would go with all my gear to see patients. The guys would wait in line, pushing themselves up against the fence so I could give them their insulin shots.” Chain link fences separated her from the men. Everyone inside the camp was surrounded by 12' concrete Jersey Barriers. Beyond this was the 20’ external Abu Ghraib wall.

“Over the course of three months I got to know the patient population very well, in conditions quite different from those inside the ward. There was one man—I’m not sure to what lengths I would go to find if he’s still alive. He was a retired Boeing engineer. He had a degree from Oxford and a Master’s in engineering from a U.S. university. He knew everything about Seattle; we could exchange landmarks. I knew this was a legitimate individual. He spoke French, Arabic, English. He was a businessman; his family was fairly affluent; he was Sunni.

“When we invaded in 2003, he returned to Iraq. He claimed a rival businessman turned him in as a gun dealer to get him out of the way. His record said he was an informant and there was something about arms or guns. Something about his storefronts being used for something, but why they got him and no one else in his family… no one’s story matched up. What matched up is he spoke French and he’d been all over the world. We discussed Moscow and he was able to describe my favorite metro station to a T. Okay, so maybe he saw it on the Internet and remembered that one picture, or, yes, maybe he was there with Boeing, looking at some aviation equipment, which sounds more plausible. As his health declined, he became angrier and angrier. He had already been there for three years with no charges and that I know for a fact. No charges. He was just continually being held. The angrier he got, the more strikes against him were showing up in the system and I kept saying, You’ve got to be careful; you’re starting to look really bad. And he’s like: ‘I don’t care anymore.’ And then the second to the last time I saw him, he was completely beat up. A 68-year old man. I asked him who did it to him and he said, ‘Does it matter who did this? It doesn’t matter anymore.’ And it just killed me. And whether or not he was an arm’s dealer or had anything to do with the insurgency, if a foreign force came to the United States of America, we would all be standing up doing the exact same thing. The last I heard he was touting religious fundamentalism. One of the things we did wrong was putting 500 Sunnis in a tent together and 500 Shia in another. All it did was polarize the civil war. Abu Ghraib is the birthplace of Isis, it’s a throw back to the Ba’athist Sunni party whose members were all incarcerated there without being charged in horrible conditions—that’s the womb of Isis right there.”

At Abu Ghraib, Anna also took care of young children. There were 100 kids under the age of 14 being detained. Under the Rules of Engagement, the Marine Corps could scoop up everyone within 1,000 meters of an IED attack and this included children. The only place to take them was Abu Ghraib, so entire families were there, though they were segregated and hadn’t seen each other in years. The children would surround Anna: “Tell my Dad I said Hi”, they’d cry or, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” In August 2006 they were moved to Camp Cropper, a high value detainee facility. Built by Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown and Root using millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, it was a state of the art facility with huge locking doors, cells, catwalks and towers. “Here, for one hour a day Monday through Friday the children went to a tent for school taught by captured women, so maybe a mother was there, maybe not. And a lot of the matriarchs there were Saddam’s sisters, nieces, cousins—50% of the women at Camp Cropper were his kin.”

Moving into the ER took her away from a lot of these personal interactions. “The beauty of the ER is you start your shift and end your shift. What happens in between doesn’t tend to happen the next day. You don’t see the same people. Three things happen: your patient is discharged, they die, or they’re admitted into the hospital where they’re placed in an intermediate care ward. Those folks had up to 40 people for weeks, the same people. That’s where issues started to build.

“Torture was hard. It still existed, and don’t ever think it didn’t. I cared for people who’d been tortured all the time. The C.I.A. may never waterboard again, but they’ll find something different. And those subordinate units that aren’t scrutinized as closely (Delta Force, the SEALS, psychology units), they absolutely continued until the day we left. And there’s an acceptable element within Iraq and other Arabic countries that torture’s part of the fabric of the society, even though 99% don’t want it. A lot of times they’d have somebody in custody, the U.S. would be there, they’d allow the Iraqi police or army to torture the person. If they didn’t die, but came within death, they packaged them up and sent them to us. I had a note on my clipboard that said: Fresh trauma is normal. Fresh trauma is someone who’s been shot, or been in an IED explosion and have been brought straight to you. Like that’s normal, that’s understandable. We called the torture victims “recycled trauma”. The trauma happened and then somehow they’re recycled through the system and when they finally got to us, it was never normal. Arms would be broken at terrible angles, but the injuries would be a week old. You’d have to amputate at that point. We were giving a very high level of medical care, but we were not rehabilitating anybody. So the best way to give this person an opportunity to live was not rehabilitate in a case like that. It was an amputation.”

After Saddam was captured he was never in the same location for two nights in a row. They moved him around the country for three years. It was the only way to keep him alive. It was when he came to Camp Cropper that Anna first encountered him.

Four months later Anna was picked to go to the Iraqi High Tribunal Court during the Al-Anfal Trial. Saddam had already been convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death, but with the Al-Anfahl trial, the charge was genocide pertaining to the gassing of tens of thousands of Kurds, and so vastly more important. “Being part of the emergency medical crew is a rotating assignment. My first tour was two and a half weeks, and then subsequently, I got asked back. I was the only nurse given this honor, but it’s hard to say that being assigned to a trial where they executed somebody was one of the highlights of my deployment because I’m not sure I believe in the death penalty.

“Saddam Hussein and I never said one word to each other. He was charming, jovial, manipulative and scary. All the things required for a dictator. I watched him deal with younger soldiers. He was good at mind games; that's for sure. It's why the Army had to rotate his security detachment every three months, or less.”

Following her experiences at Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper, Anna wanted to figure out how to get people thinking about how we can work better in the future. “One of the things that I have always felt is that active duty military medical support should not be doing EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) health care for extended periods of time. There’s a conflict of interest in the primal reason you’re doing both. Healthcare is to help people. The military’s foundation is the elimination of an enemy or threat. When you got the two of those together for a lengthy period of time it became hard for good people to look at the person restrained on the bed who had just killed three U.S. soldiers, as a patient deserving of care anymore. In armed conflict, EPWs who need health care and the detainee facility itself should be moved out of the theater as far as possible.

“Furthermore, there needs to be security and those security teams need to have special training in corrections. It should not be a standard infantry unit. Once at Abu Ghraib, we had an infantry unit move in and in a six-week period probably 18 detainees lost eyes. The nonlethal “donkey balls” used during any kind of riot or suppression were designed to knock someone down when aimed at the body, but the infantry is trained to kill, and so aim shots at the head, resulting in blindings. This completely undermined medicine’s approach to the three things that take absolute critical precedence: Life, limb and eyesight.”

Anna is advocating for the U.N. to put together teams, which have no affiliation in a particular conflict, that are trained culturally, ethically and competently in delivering healthcare to Enemy Prisoners of War.

When Anna returned from Iraq, she had problems sleeping and also with patient care. Taking blood, or doing anything where she felt she was hurting someone became nearly impossible. With her six years commission obligation running out, she put together a package to re-branch into civil affairs with the intention of developing a wellness transition team composed of doctors, nurses and medics that would be part of the provincial reconstruction. The members of the medical team would be culturally competent and able to speak the language. They would go into the community and teach the Imam and other community members how to deal with healthcare emergencies, public health issues, trauma, childbirth, mental health, etc. The Pentagon approved the proposal and Anna received orders to go to Afghanistan for 15 months. Six weeks before, she was due to leave, she broke her leg severely. The break didn’t heal properly and she had been measured for a prosthesis at Walter Reed. Following a third and final surgery, which successfully saved her leg, she was dosed with the wrong anesthesia along with nine other people, which caused serious damage from which she is only now recovering.

Despite all she has been through, Anna remains remarkably positive and sunny. Rather than bringing her down and paralyzing her, her experiences have galvanized her into action. Upon leaving the military, Anna returned to school to get her M. A. in Emergency Management. “I would have liked to get an M.F.A., but you can’t put food on the table with that.” After receiving her degree, Anna began working at the U.S. Geological Survey as an Emergency Manager writing policy for the Department of Interior.

Being at VCCA has “Offered me safety and the ability to do something I’ve wanted to do for ages, namely spread out all my materials.” Anna gestures to the walls of her studio all four of which are covered with photographs and text. “For a variety of reasons, I haven’t had the luxury of doing this before. It’s enabled me to organize my thoughts and narrative.

“With this experience at VCCA, I realize I haven’t had much time to heal or focus on healing. I have gone from one burning fire to the next burning fire. And I knew it, but I didn’t feel it, but now I’m here and I feel it. And I’m like, okay, things can be different. They really can. The other Fellows are thoughtful and intelligent, and fun, and deeply engrossed in their work, and it’s really interesting being around them.

“This has been by far, the highlight of the last six years. Being here is so much more than putting stuff up on a wall. It gave me validity. If this organization that has such a fabulous reputation—if they believe in me, then I have the self-confidence to go do the residency. It gave me the strength to tell my family I was leaving, the strength to tell work that they would have to do without me. I have not taken any time off to do this before—that’s my own fault.  Now, I see that I need to.”