Each year, the percentage of adults in the United States who can’t remember a time when our country was not engaged in the War on Terror jumps precipitously. For the last 20 years, we have been inundated with images of soldiers halfway across the world. We see these as part of the news cycle, innuring us to the horrors involved, dehumanizing the conflict, the participants, the bystanders.
James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped and ultimately murdered by ISIS, sought to present a broader truth of the conflicts he covered. Bradley McCallum’s in-progress body of work, Inescapable Truths, based on video, photography, notes, and other items from Foley’s archive, builds on Foley’s legacy. His work, which felt engaging, provocative, thoughtful, and powerful a few months ago, feels increasingly necessary and poignant today. It serves as a reminder of the illuminating role of art by providing a visual interpretation of the complex effects of war.
Inescapable Truths is about conflict, journalism, storytelling, humanity. McCallum uses oil painting and printing on silk to present a unique set of images that are simultaneously Foley’s and his own. The process is unmistakably McCallum’s; developed over years of making political art focused on re-centering stories of marginalization. His practice is one that highlights voices that are often ignored from within stories we are so used to hearing. Because it takes effort to discern which part of the image is painted and which is printed, his paintings alter our perceptions and expectations. Some of the works seem to draw us in, while others seem to push us away. The experience is disorienting and engrossing all at once; it is hard to know where to look, and hard to look away.
This unease is intentional, we are not meant to feel comfort with these works. As we find ourselves in the midst of political crisis and at the precipice of another cycle of destruction, it is the artists who continue to hold us accountable and tell the untold stories, that deserve our attention. Although McCallum initially created this body of work to redirect the public memory of Foley’s memory away from the viral video of his death, and towards the intensity and purpose of his life, the impact of the work is a reminder that armed conflicts are ongoing, and that we are very much involved.