MIAMI.- A poignant and controversial art project is on view in Miami. It is part of the Soldier Billboard Project which has had a presence in five other cities since the fall. The soldier billboards have sparked a heated debate on the street and on the web with responses from the military and the public.
Artist Suzanne Opton has photographed soldiers between tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her portraits afford the viewer a very intimate and serious look at the young men and women who have put their lives at risk serving in the military. The results are haunting and when they appear on forty-eight foot billboards floating above the freeway in the light of day or eerily illuminated at night, they are riveting and mysterious.
Thousands of American Soldiers are returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We may wonder what they saw, what they did and how their war experience has affected them as they return to civilian life. One of the soldiers, Cain Claxton, BNCOC Small Group Leader, was initially deployed for 120 days in Afghanistan and had only recently returned when his photo was taken: "I think it's about being vulnerable. As a Soldier, I don't want to ever look like that, but I'm more than a Soldier, I'm a husband and father. My kids don't separate the two. 'Daddy is almost always in his soldier clothes.'"
Five arts organizations have sponsored the Soldier Billboards launching with the start of the Democratic National Convention by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Forecast Public Art in St. Paul Minnesota put up one board during the Republican National Convention. DiverseWorks sponsored two boards in Houston and the Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art sponsored a board through the elections in November. Skylab/the Shelf in Columbus, Ohio had three soldier billboards up before the elections.
The Soldier Billboard Project is supported by the Fledgling Fund, CrossCurrents Foundation, the Cummings Foundation and private donors. The New York Foundation for the Arts is the fiscal sponsor.
Suzanne Opton's artwork can be found in collections in the US and Europe including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Austin Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Musée de l'Eysée, Lausanne. Switzerland.