When Baton Rouge native Margaret Evangeline’s son Michael was deployed to Iraq, she didn’t think writing letters was the most personal way to communicate with him.
Instead, she sent aluminum bars overseas and asked him to shoot them.
The narrow, rectangular bars are the exact regulation size allowed for shipments to the military.
The bars, along with the rest of Evangeline’s “On War” exhibit, are displayed at the LSU Museum of Art until Aug. 2.
The 72-year-old’s paintings, mixed media and installation pieces examine the effect of war and violence on relationships and the healing power of art during times of conflict.
Curator Katie Pfohl said Evangeline’s exhibit raises questions about the way people respond to war and does not take an overt political stance.
“It’s not really a pro or anti-war show,” Pfohl said. “It’s a show that really kind of explores the impact war has had on Margaret and her family and the role that art can play in helping people respond and recover to war.”
This is Evangeline’s first retrospective exhibit, but some of the pieces date back to the ’80s.
As a child, Evangeline toured the State Capitol and put her finger in the bullet hole supposedly left from Huey P. Long’s assassination.
That experience, combined with military connections through her husband and son, led her to ask questions about the damaging effects of violence on society.
Pfohl approached Evangeline with the idea for the exhibit.
Evangeline said she never intended for most of her art to focus on war, but credits Pfohl with recognizing the common theme in three decades of her work and organizing it into a cohesive exhibit.
“All my work has not been about war at all, but [Pfohl] saw the thread that ran through it and put it together in a way that really illuminates what I’ve been doing,” Evangeline said. “Overall, I think all of my work has always been about relationships and politics and political issues.”
Evangeline’s Sabachthani installation, which is a part of “On War,” includes the pieces she shipped to her son in Iraq and a 70-foot wall projection listing all the recorded wars in history, beginning with The Conquest of Sumner and ending with the contemporary Syrian Civil War.
The aluminum bars marked with bullet holes show that tools of violence can be transformed into art that furthers understanding of the effects of war.
“It was my idea to install 14 of them in the way of the ‘Way of the Cross’ where people can meditate at each one, and think about ... what it is to keep vigil for someone who’s away at war,” Evangeline said.
The “Way of the Cross” is a Catholic tradition of reflecting on different phases of Jesus’ crucifixion.
The wall projection is a collaboration with University master’s student John Gray.
Another piece of the exhibit is an image of John F. Kennedy and his son printed on an emergency blanket. Evangeline said the blanket is supposed to sway slightly to represent memories fading away and returning.
Pfohl said though Evangeline is renowned nationally and internationally for her art, she isn’t as well-known in her home state.
Even though the exhibit touches on a sensitive political issue, Pfohl said the response to Evangeline’s works has been positive.
“People have really responded to this personal story of this mother and son making art together — him as a soldier, her as an artist — and really seeing how art helped them through a really challenging time in both of their lives,” Pfohl said.
Evangeline attended the University for one year before she got married and moved for her husband to complete pilot training.
When he was sent to Vietnam, Evangeline said she saw how war can strain relationships.
Her son Michael was in the National Guard when he attended the University. Almost immediately after going into active duty, the Persian Gulf War began. He is now retired from the military.
Evangeline, who splits her time between New York and Louisiana, has two other sons.
Pfohl said the exhibit shows a personal connection between foreign war and the Baton Rouge area and showcases the work of a local artist.
“It’s really easy to read newspaper articles and online stories about wars happening in different parts of the world and feel like these are far away events that are happening to someone else,” Pfohl said. “One of the goals of the show was really to say, ‘No, these are issues that are affecting people that live and work locally, and are things that have very strong connections to the experience of people living in Louisiana and Baton Rouge and at LSU.’”
During the creation of her art and the organization of “On War,” Evangeline said her views on war have evolved.
All she is sure of is her purpose as an artist in times of violence.
“War is such a complex issue ... I’m not even sure anymore if we are advanced enough to stop having war all the time,” Evangeline said. “I think that we’ll eventually evolve enough that we won’t have to have this, but all I can do as an artist is continue thinking about it and [raise] questions about it even if we don’t know the answer.”