By Sarina Gupta
When he first arrived in Iraq in April of 2003, artist Steve Mumford took out his camera and began taking pictures, only to find himself feeling like a fraud.
Stuck with two reports and no way back to his hotel in Kuwait, Mumford pulled out his drawing pad and began the first sketch of many depicting America’s war on Iraq.
Originally from Boston, Mumford attended The School of Visual Arts in New York, and after multiple tours overseas, Mumford now teaches at The New York Academy of Art.
As part of the Visiting Artist Series, on Wednesday, April 16, in the Library Auditorium, Mumford told students how he began his project on the Iraq War in April of 2003, in an attempt to document life in Iraq in a way that mirrored Winslow Homer’s depictions of the Civil War.
Mumford found it difficult at first to feel as though he belonged among the American soldiers he traveled with, but he soon realized he was an artist in a war zone and therefore had the right to document what was going on.
In the early days of war, Mumford would go out into cities and see what he could find.
“I wanted to draw from life,” Mumford said. “The war was going on, but it was surprisingly hard to find.”
Battles began late in 2003, and this shift is evident in Mumford’s work, as sketches appear more frantic and red ink splatters the wounded bodies of Iraqis and American soldiers alike.
He spent time in the Baghdad Emergency Room, witnessing amputations and surgeries of all kinds, as well as the reality of death in a time of war.
Mumford recalls seeing stretchers drying in the Baghdad sun after being washed clean of blood. He also saw ceremonies for American soldiers who passed with the deceased’s boots, rifle and helmet on display as a memorial and how his unit and his doctors would stand at attention as the body was carried away.
Although Mumford was in Iraq as an artist, he definitely felt the sting of war, recalling that one day he just started sobbing.
“(The result was the) pent-up emotions of all this mayhem,” Mumford said.
Mumford describes his time in Iraq as a powerful, moving experience and hopes his work “might relate to all wars on some level.”
He wants more artists to consider the “notion of being an artist and applying yourself to current events,” as he did in Iraq, because, “it just feels like now is the time.”