“We are not government issued”
"WE ARE not government issued" was the theme of a mural and its dedication ceremony in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, on September 6.
The mural was painted by 13 young Brooklyn women: Elizabeth Marony, Annie Wu, Sophia Dan, Erica Gill, Vivian Mah, Yan Yi Chen, Yasemin Kaynas, Min Ting Liu, Ashley Hollingshead, Teresa Tang, Elizabeth Yanes and Ebony Thurman. The project was envisioned during a four-month pilot of the leadership program Voices Her'd Visionaries, and is part of the Groundswell Community Mural Project.
Voices Her’d is an after-school program where young women meet and research issues that affect women. The topics they researched were: women and health, women in the military, women and poverty, and women and incarceration. Their research included guest speakers, going over data and networking with a variety of social action organizations.
The young women choose "women in the military," with a focus on health issues that specifically affect women in the military.
In the mural, three young women are featured, armed not with weapons, but with the tools of creativity and education. The top figure in the painting holds a paintbrush from which a banner flows, reading, "We Are Not Government Issued." Another section of banner reads, "Arm Yourself with the Knowledge to Think for Yourself."
Parachutes fill the sky. The largest reads "Keep Your Illegal War Off..." along with many smaller parachutes with the words "Our Schools," "Our Families," "Our Neighborhoods," "Our Futures," "Our Bodies," "Our Humanity," "Our Morality," "Our Taxes" and "Our Dreams" that drift through the mural.
The lower section of the mural shows dog tags that honor female soldiers who have died. Also shown are soldiers landing on the ground and civilians helping them to their feet. Statistics from the group's research are hidden in the shadows—they are the shameful facts about mental health, sexual assault and other trauma that female soldiers experience.
The mural, located at the corner of 23rd Street and 3rd Avenue, is painted on the side of a building that was restored by the Fifth Avenue Committed and contains six affordable housing units. The mural can be seen from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and makes a powerful statement against the war and the targeting of low-income minorities, especially young women, by military recruiters.
Jennifer Hogg from the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) was one of the many people who came and spoke to the young women of Voices Her'd during the research phase of the project. Hogg said she got involved because she wanted to "help them see the world as something they are a part of."
Annie Wu, one of the team members, said she grew up with Groundswell, working summers through the Summer Youth Employment Program. She learned many lessons such as "how to open your eyes to trouble around you" and " care for your community." She said that she learned to "trust society...A lot changes once somebody says something."
Katia Yamasaki, the lead artist on the project, said the project brings together "dialogue and protest." It is a way to bring a voice to young women of color who wonder how they will pay for college and are approached by recruiters. At least one of the young women had considered joining. All changed their minds about the military after listening to the soldiers.
Taxpayers in Brooklyn have sent over $5.7 billion to Iraq. Katia ended by asking "What would it be like to be governed by people who actually have our interests at heart...All young people should have choices that don't come out of desperation."
Afterward, I asked one of the young women, Yasemin Kaynes, a Brooklyn College student, why she got involved in the project. She said that she started participating four years ago and keeps coming back because she "finds new things to learn."
Her first project was another mural inspired by Judy Chicago's "Dinner Table." In that mural, the young women had to depict who they would like to invite to dinner. She remembered one woman who ran a nursery that never had enough funds, but somehow always found the money to keep it going. She found it very inspirational.
As an artist myself, whose art is political, I found these courageous and talented young women inspirational and hope that their message continues to inspire others.
Cindy Klumb, Brooklyn, N.Y.