Relief in Place: 1,220,580, is an installation and a memorial. It reflects on the lives of people as memories and contextualizes the inconceivable number recounted as the Iraqi civilian body count. I am speaking for my generation; a generation bound by the fanciful hopes of expectation instilled in us and rooted to a collapsing earth.

I believe that there is no difference between others and myself. Because in the end, we are always here again, the day after tomorrow, left with nothing but ourselves. The tragedy in Iraq is something that belongs collectively to the world, to the total social memory of our common history. These numbers total a deafening actuality: one million, two hundred thousand dead. That’s one you. One me. One person you love, one person you didn’t know very well, but recognized their face, multiplied by one million, two hundred thousand other individuals. Dead bodies. Shredded lives. Humans broken with terrifying intent and power. I feel that by having challenged myself to tell the story of the individual and visually translate that by conveying a voice and a vision that can further mobilize others, suggesting alternative perceptions and change. By visualizing the number of Iraqi dead through this installation piece I have effectively aimed to grant amore salient, tangible reality to the notional concept of a body count. I believe this piece speaks to the necessity of social memory, and allows us to mature collectively without social oblivion and isolation. As said by Paul Robeson, “in the final analysis, every generation must be responsible for itself.”

When a viewer enters into the space they are met by a dimensional representation of the civilian body count, light, sound, movement, substance, aroma, space, all redolent of memory and self. Covered in natural beeswax, the 1,200 clay pieces reflect subtle ochre that mixes with the slow sunlight drifting in from the large glass windows that juxtapose border the installation space. The silhouettes of each of the individual clay pieces stands out against the raw ceiling of the gallery space, suspended from a matrix of thin white strands of string. Like watching birds migrating on the edge of a dying horizon, we can witness the distant silhouette of war and the shadows it casts faintly onto us. Mirroring the installation, cast onto the floor, the shadows of the pieces further the ungraspable magnitude of a million. The space itself remains silent, but headphones sit available to the viewer, offering a sample of recorded voices, stories of Iraqi refugees that I personally interviewed though the Washington, DC based organization, the List Project that works to resettle displaced Iraqi. Spoken in colloquial Iraqi Arabic by former Iraqi translator for the United States Marines, Malik Al Maliki reads these interviews.

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© 2009

Adalaide Johnson

Adalaide Johnson