Emily Prince picture collages create poignant visual memorial to soldiers at Saatchi Gallery

By Kirstie Brewer | 15 February 2010
A photo of people looking at a huge map on a wall inside a gallery

Exhibition: American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (but not Including the Wounded, nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans), Saatchi Gallery Project Room, London, until May 7 2010

The portraits of 5,158 American soldiers fill a room at the Saatchi Gallery – all of them different and all of them dead. They are meticulously drawn in tribute to each American serviceman and woman killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2004 – the year President George W. Bush was re-elected.

Frustrated by the direction America was headed in, artist Emily Prince began channelling her energy into creating this memorial project.

The pencilled portraits appear on small cards corresponding to skin colour, forming a study of the racial demographics for soldiers sent to war.

They are methodically pinned in columns stretching from floor to ceiling, creating a powerful effect. Each one is accompanied by the fallen soldier's name, age and place of origin.

A close up picture of a drawing of a military serviceman

Jason Morales La Puente, California (2004). Pencil on colour coated vellum

The installation was previously hung in the shape of a US map, with each portrait pinned on to the soldier's hometown location.

At this exhibition, however, the portraits follow a chronological order, profoundly drawing attention to seemingly endless conflict.

Each fallen solider is restored from a statistic back into a person, challenging the public to confront a reality it has grown desensitised to.

Prince has monitored the website www.militarytimes.com several times a week since 2004, collecting information on the soldiers killed and making drawings for every update.

Those without photos available are represented in the exhibition by an empty card, labelled with the individual's name and details.

A photo of a giant map on the wall of a gallery

American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (but not Including the Wounded, nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis) (2004- present). Pencil on colour coated vellum

"I needed to see pictures of them, to familiarise myself just a tiny bit more with what was happening far from my warm home," Prince says.

"And it really isn't much. It too is a mere summary, just one step beyond bare numbers. Yet it is something."

The work was constantly developed up to and including the day of the exhibition installation. Drawings hung with white pins indicate soldiers who died prior to the Saatchi installation, and red pins denote men and women who lost their lives during the making of the exhibition.

The project's sentiments bear resonance to British artist Steve McQueen's Queen and Country Project.

A close up photo of miniature drawn portraits of military servicemen

The work continued to develop until the day of the exhibition

In 2007, McQueen created postage stamps of 155 British soldiers killed in Iraq, using images chosen by the family of the deceased. But until the Royal Mail agrees to issue the stamps, the artist considers the project to be incomplete. The campaign to release the stamps to the public still continues.

Since the Saatchi installation was finalised, there have been 169 more American soldiers killed. Prince, who has returned to her home in San Francisco, will continue to add to her portraits. The project won't be complete until the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq stop for good.

All images © Emily Prince and Saatchi Gallery, saatchi-gallery.co.uk

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