Area artist Jean Chandanais Bohlender paints Americans in Afghanistan.
by Jean Chandanais Bohlender
Editor's note: Western Bank in Silver City recently opened an art exhibit, "Another Desert — Americans in Afghanistan," featuring paintings by local artist Jean Chandanais Bohlender and a special patriotic student art project led by Cliff School art teacher Riley Olson. The exhibit will be on view until Sept. 26. Bohlender is best known for her paintings of Western scenes and ranch life, like the art on this issue's cover. Here she explains how she came to branch out to depict scenes in the Afghan desert, halfway around the world.
Will Rogers once said, "All I know is what I read in the papers." Now we might add, "what we hear on the news or read on the Internet." I wanted to know what our troops actually do in Afghanistan, their lives during deployment. There were many thousands of our military people over there, and I'd only read about a few who did very well, a few who did not, and many who gave their lives in service. Then a young military friend showed me some pictures of his experience in Afghanistan, totally different from what I knew.
Out of the many thousands of military men and women offering their lives for the many millions of Americans, I am honored to know a few. While painting the stories of these Marines, Army soldiers and airmen, I spent time to think of them, learn of their lives (so very different from the civilian world) and to pray for them. I prayed for the wholeness of their bodies, minds and spirits. I tried to understand what influences them, changes them. I wanted to know who they are now.
This is their story. Painted by me, but translated into paint without my altering what is theirs. They supplied photographs of their experience, with permission to work from them. Normally, I paint only from my own experiences and resources, but this time I was grateful not to have to be in the desert that I longed to see. They also supplied the information of their experiences and explained some of the myriads of military abbreviations.
These military men and women experience the cultures they are placed in, sometimes in a position to serve and protect the indigenous people also. Some are sent places you can barely find on a map, where there are just a few houses and a district center along a wadi. Some look back to see there are now no US forces present anywhere they once were.
In my experience with them through painting, notes and conversation, I gained respect for the integrity of their hearts, minds and discipline. These people train relentlessly. Their training is continual and intense. They often face life-threatening situations. They are stressed, discomfited and inconvenienced by frequent moves, occupational changes, deployments, separations from spouses and families. In between all the pressure and rushing, lie long stretches of waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting to go home. Waiting for the next move.
Those I've spoken to sincerely are fighting for us "back home" — those they love, those who wait for their return. All also fight for each other — brothers in arms, working (and sometimes dying) together for the sake of the mission set before them. All are subject to the chain of command. All have a job to do, directed by those of superior rank, and your elected Congress and president.
Military people who are deployed spend months to years away from their homeland and those loved ones they fight for. Wives have babies and raise children alone. Relationships are "suspended" until they can be together again. Small children growing and changing daily miss their father's or mother's influence for many months. Parents of serving military pray and hope for their safety and well being... and wonder when will they see them again.
The military becomes the military's families. The spouses have a strong support network for each other, helping each other and befriending each other while the military mate is away. They welcome new military families into their circles, and often invite unmarried or single military people in for holiday celebrations in their homes. Their lives are forever altered by their service to our country. Some spend many lonely hours. Some uproot their lives, friendships and involvements, rebuilding at every move.
Some pay a tremendous price for their service — temporarily or permanently disabled, burns, lost limbs, mental ailments. Some never come home alive. Some lose their marriages or their ability to function in society.
I believe they are all worthy of our respect and gratitude. I believe if you do not support the war, you should deal with your elected officials — but honor those who are serving as the warriors.
"Another Desert" tells a small part of the lives of a few Marines, Army and Air Force personnel. It shows some of their work and what they do. Some paintings show their equipment, and what some of their missions were, while some show a little of the Afghan culture. Each painting has a description with the titled card telling the story. Each description is supplied by the military men and women who provided the photos.
If someone were to ask me what my "statement" is as an artist, in painting these works, I would have to say, "Honor those who serve you."
Support and pray for America's troops.
Jean Chandanais Bohlender lives near Silver City with her husband, her dog Delilah, chickens and goats. Her two children serve in the military. Along with this exhibit, she has two paintings in the Montford Point Marine Museum in Jacksonville, NC, as well as in collections across the United States. Bohlender's art is represented by Seedboat Gallery, 214 West Yankie St. in downtown Silver City, www.seedboatgallery.com. Western Bank is located at 330 Hwy. 180 W. in Silver City. Lobby hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Bohlender plans to donate 40% of any sales from this show to the Wounded Warrior Project at the end of the exhibit.