The American war

While on an artist’s retreat in Vietnam in June of 2005, multimedia artist Harrell Fletcher visited the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum has as its focus provocative photojournalistic images and excerpted written documentation about the Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as “The American War in Vietnam.”

Fletcher was so moved by the damning evidence pointing to the injustice of that intervention that he photographed what he saw in the museum and turned it into a traveling museum.

The photographs range in size. Their subjects range from blurry black and white photos of U.S. demonstrations to corpses mutilated by a variety of modern weaponry.

One subject is an American soldier nonchalantly holding the shredded cadaver of a Vietnamese civilian. Others include killed and maimed men, women and juvenile civilians.

There is also a series of color photos showing how napalm, Agent Orange and other toxic chemical weapons manifested themselves in the form of highly disturbing birth defects, including a case of a child born to a U.S. Vietnam veteran and his wife.

Also on display is a copy of the extensive pamphlet made available to visitors at the War Remnants Museum. It includes quotes from key historical figures including Robert McNamara who was secretary of defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Regarding the war he says: “Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.”

Perhaps it is to this end that Fletcher asked friends in San Antonio to organize a discussion in which community members who “had some kind of connection to Vietnam” were asked to speak for 10 minutes followed by a discussion among the speakers and the audience. A video of the talk was made during the opening and later made a part of the exhibit, which will be traveling across the nation.

The dates and venues of the exhibit are as follows: Through Jan. 22, Artpace, 445 North Main Ave., San Antonio, Texas, (210) 212-4900; Feb. 10 – April 15, Solvent Space, 1000 West Broad St., Richmond, Va., (804) 827-0984; April 27 - 30, The Center For Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Building N52-390,

Cambridge, Mass., (617) 253-4415; May 5 – June 10, White Columns, 320 West 13 St., New York, (212) 924-4212.