COLUMN: The Art of War: A look at a more socially responsible avant-garde

By Emma Claire Sohn

I’ve spent a great deal of my life indirectly trying to define “Art”. My progression through the art realm is something that many of my peers can relate to – early scribbles of Disney characters led to portraits of my family members, followed by watercolor renditions of impressionistic masterpieces, culminating in high school stabs at surrealism and self-portraits. Then you’re off to college, where you’re required to choose a more specific field with the hopes of doing something with your life and your talent, financially unfeasible as it may seem.

Artists go in a lot of varying directions, but in the end we’re all on the same road, with the same itching on the back of our necks, desperate for a stroke at the larger picture, employing whatever means it takes to solve the issue at hand.

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We’re in an unprecedented time in so many different ways. Art has touched minimalism, reached back to realism, and rejoiced in the conceptual. But art is taking a different direction with a more significant role than any avant-garde art form of the past.

OPENSOURCE is a volunteer-based organization in Champaign which exhibits, promotes, and exposes local art to the community, furthering the diverse art world from a local perspective. Their most recent exhibition is titled “In War/At War: The Practice of Everyday.”

According to Aaron Hughes, an OPENSOURCE volunteer and Iraq War Veteran who has heavily contributed to the show, the goal of In War/At War was to consider war on the personal level. While sifting through the over 90 submissions the organization received for the show, the OPENSOURCE curatorial board veered away from work that perpetuated popular media (mis)conceptions of the Iraq War, and instead accepted pieces which better reflect how individuals react to the inevitable terror and tragedy that accompanies war.

One unique aspect of the show is the fact that artists statements are omitted from the majority of the exhibit, removing any definite political views from the work. This leaves the viewer to their own devices in interpreting the work.

With party lines erased and the monotonous voice of the mainstream media silenced for a split second, I found myself revaluating my own views on the war as a construct and its application to our society by the current administration. I found that I was guilty of ignoring the personal effects of war so poignantly displayed in the OPENSOURCE exhibition in favor of viewing the war as an economic or political tool.

The volunteers at OPENSOURCE picked up on this emotion in planning the show. The most effective part of this exhibition is its extension beyond what is traditionally considered to be art. I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture in conjunction with the show by Kenan Malkic and Elissa Montanti, representatives from the Global Medical Relief Fund. The GMRF is a non-profit organization that works to restore dignity to children that have been disabled as a result of war, natural disasters, or illness.

When asked what students could do to aid their relief efforts beyond financial contributions, Elissa Montanti of the Global Medical Relief Fund instructed the audience to contribute their own skills and abilities. The individuals who contributed to the OPENSOURCE exhibit have found one possible response to this call. Maybe you’re artistically inclined in another venue. In any case, if you’re a citizen of the United States you have the ability and the right to vote.

The upcoming election will not only determine the control of Congress, but the ballot you’re handed on Nov. 7 will include three referendums related to how Champaign County supports the Iraq War. Elections are twelve days away. That is ample time to take a step away from the media and consider how your vote will contribute to society on a more personal level. Visit OPENSOURCE. Research the Global Medical Relief Fund. Take a look at how others both locally and abroad are affected by this war. Decide for yourself, then make your opinions heard.

For OPENSOURCE information and hours, go to For more information on the Global Medial Relief Fund, visit