Exhibit inspired by Vietnamese paintings

Sarah Lack

Healing and cross-cultural understanding are the themes of “Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings,” on display at the School of Art’s Downtown Gallery through Sept. 25.

The exhibit features original poems written by American children, veterans and established poets in response to Vietnamese children’s paintings and drawings on themes of peace and war.

The exhibit is a collaboration among the Kent State School of Art Galleries, Wick Poetry Center and Soldier’s Heart, a veteran’s support organization in Albany, N.Y.

Kent State Director of Galleries Anderson Turner worked with the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to bring the more than 90 paintings and drawings to the U.S. for the exhibit.

“It’s really an amazing project,” said Turner, who is preparing to travel the exhibit nationally after it is featured at the 2010 International Peace and War Summit at Case Western Reserve University in October.

Last January, the Wick Poetry Center launched a national call for poems written in response to the paintings. Students from local schools including Theodore Roosevelt High School, Coventry High School and Newton Falls High School contributed to the exhibit.

In total, over 1,200 poems were submitted from across the country, according to Wick Poetry Center Director David Hassler.

“I think we’ve hit upon a way to give voice to something of deep concern that is inside all of us,” Hassler said. “Through the lens of children’s paintings and poetry, we find a voice to speak about our concerns for peace and our understanding of war.”

The speed at which the exhibit grew surprised Hassler.

“This has been a true labor of love,” Hassler said. “Anybody who comes into contact with this project has brought their own talents, passion and energy. It’s something much larger than any of us, individually or collectively.”

The images of peace and war created by the Vietnamese children have inspired everyone from veterans to elementary school students.

Sarah Camey, 17, first learned about the exhibit from her English teacher. What started as a school assignment took on new meaning for the Montessori High School at University Circle senior, who was inspired by a painting with a scene of peace juxtaposed next to a scene of war.

“I liked how the two sides were different,” Camey said. “There were tears and bombs; it was symbolic of pain and suffering on a lot of different levels.”

Perhaps what struck her most, however, was the human connection she had with the painting.

“It’s one thing to say ‘why don’t you write a poem,’ and it’s another to say ‘here’s something from these people who have been affected by this, now write about it,’” Camey said. “It makes it a lot easier to connect to.”

Conact Sarah Lack at [email protected].