Frequently Asked Questions

What does birddenoftruth mean? (my blog name)

Burden of Truth is a take on Burden of Proof.  Burden of proof is of course already taken on the web, and legally.  Then again burden of truth is also taken by a number of groups from watchdogs to religious organizations.  Bird-den comes from a biblical story where Jesus, being persecuted, states that foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the sons of men have no where to rest.  In my Black Rain song and installation there is a stanza: Foxes have dens/ Birds confess / The sons of men face the tempest.  I wrote Black Rain, hearing that it was a trench term for cluster bombs amongst Iraqi troops.  Of course it was also literally black rain, which fell after the bombing of Hiroshima onto Japanese civilians leading to major radiation contamination.   Jaber Alturfee, Iraqi human rights worker and frequent participant in the Widowsweave Project, found my Black Rain video online and was powerfully reminded of the black soot which fell on Iraqi cities after the Allied bombing of Iraqi cities in Operation Desert Storm.

What does Widowsweave mean?

War widows have had it rough historically, whether it’s because they are alone, because countries devastated by war have few resources economically or because collective memory just wants to forget about them I cannot say.  Memorials to the fallen soldiers of war are everywhere.  Perhaps it is thought that these are for the widows, which, I suppose, they are.  But I have yet to see a memorial to war widows themselves.  They have sacrificed well, and continue to pay a price, often a great price.

History has shown that these widows need support, from willing or unwilling governments surely, but also support through community, activity and occupation.  During Victorian times they turned to weaving, in Australia during WWII, they were organized by Jessie Vassie into weaving guilds.  Today in Africa one can find similar activities.  The Iraq Foundation has begun a Widows Empowerment project, teaching women to use sowing machines so that they will have a usable skill in Iraq – hopefully one that they can hold some control over so that it is not usurped by those in power.

Why Iraq? Why widows? Why three million? What about orphans & children?

In Arab culture,  children are orphans if their father has died.  Mohamed was an orphan who’s mother was widowed.  I think that Americans picture old women, or at least middle aged women when they think of widows, but in Iraq, which has had three decades of war, sanctions and tyrannical rule, widows are of every age, and tragically, even after seven years of US presence following Mission Accomplished, new widows are still being created daily in Iraq.

Stories in the media of the conditions of Iraqi widows and orphans had a little flurry last year, and were echoed a little around Women’s Day, but most of the year they aren’t even footnotes in our regular concerns about Iraq.  We worry about factions, elections, our loved ones serving over there, the influence of Iran, Al Qeida and other foreign concerns, but widows and children fall off that long list.

In 1991, when Operation Desert Storm was fuelling CNN’s cable broadcast, Americans were glued day and night to their TVs watching exciting, beautiful, compelling video footage of green bleeps shooting off into a night vision landscape, hitting the intended target almost all of the time- or so we were told.  It was very sexy, all allure.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

But then again, I couldn’t sleep at night.  We were told that we killed 100,000 troops and wounded 400,000 more – and Iraq’s population is only a small fraction that of the US.   In 43 days.  There was one picture of a burnt body at the top of a tank.  That was it.  No other pictures. No good pictures of even a jet in flight.  And no sleep.

I created a series of etchings, and a song cycle.  They were oft misunderstood.  Iraq is not some foreign land that popped into my head.  It’s a part of our world, our consciousness and has been for twenty years.

February, 2009: the Minister for Women’s Affairs in Iraq resigned her position when her annual program budget was cut to $18,000. She was on the radio and said that after 30 years, there were 3,000,000 widows.  That spring and through till International Women’s Day, reports spoke of hard manual labor, selling of children for food, lack of healthy water, begging, prostitution.  Many widows live with family but those whose extended families are incapable or unwilling have few good options.  I thought that I could memorialize these widows through a durational performance.

What about US widows?

I would love to help widows of American soldiers as well as others around the world, but if I spread my efforts too thin there will not even be a symbolic impact.  My goal to raise 3 million dollars for Iraqi widows would be symbolic as it is if it were evenly distributed at $1/person, not counting for administrative costs/corruption etc.  If the UN estimate is more accurate, and there are only ¾ million widows – it’s still a small amount.  But it is hope: it shows that people care.  Perhaps in the future I will be able to help US widows, but for now this goal is enough.

Why chalk lines?

Chalk lines are tallies. They are instructive. Easily erased, smudged, blurred.

The count becomes inaccurate, symbolic of the generalized history and support of widows and children, who are never counted as clearly as men and lack basic necessities in Iraq.

As I draw chalk lines, new lines cover old ones, they obliterate any trace of the first count, the first thousand lines, the first million intersections of lines.  Are there three million widows in Iraq? Three quarters of a million? More?  No one can accurately say because they are uncounted.  I count them, but, in chalk, the count remains painfully unclear.

Why lines in the sand?

Lines in the sand are also ephemeral – they can be blown away in minutes, washed away, stepped on, erased with a new line. But they represent more than just a short existence: they represent division of land, opposition of forces or a limit of toleration.  Us and them, for or against, thus far and no farther.  And sand is a defining feature of much of the landscape of Iraq.

What better way can there be than to draw that line of finality, of decision – three million times.

Why lines? What about The Grid?

I am a trained figure painter.  I love representational art in the European tradition. This work, however is not about what I love – it is about vulnerable women in a multi-ethnic culture which is predominantly Islamic.

Often more is said with less by hinting and showing than telling.  My earlier work about the 1991 Iraq War was blatant and figurative and more often than not misconstrued.  Representing this concept with lines and grids however seems to universally resonate.  I have not met one person in over forty performances who didn’t “get it.”

Grid work, whether Agnes Martin or Sol LeWitt, speaks to mechanization, to repetition while referencing modernization, repetitive labor, abstraction of concept.  These themes resonate with the the contemporary state of warfare, society, economics etc.  The huge numbers of killings, vast discrepancies in income, divisions of labor inside Iraq and between countries who are players on the world scene – these factors help define this issue in abstract terms, and counting one at a time help humanize an otherwise unfathomable number, an indigestible human tragedy.

How can I help?

Participate in Widowsweave by drawing lines in the sand, hosting a Lines in the Sand event, collecting pledges for charity or donating to ArtistActivist’s Widowsweave Project.

What charities?

Charities will be listed on the Get Involved page of this site as they become identified. ArtistActivist is looking for charities that benefit widows is Iraq as directly as possible, but also is partnering with awareness raising groups. Many charities have had to pull out of Iraq due to violence.

Why is this Art?

The drawing of lines is not a political protest, though it could be seen as one.  It is a personal experience with a symbolic gesture which fosters thoughtful introspection is the same way that a painting might.  In many cases it is participatory or interactive, though often the artist is drawing alone.  The creation of woven lines in the landscape or on a chalkboard does create a picture, an image impressing the terrible quantity of the numbers of widows, but it is also a meditative moment – reckoning ones own existence with the lives of others.  The lack of museum walls or a permanent artwork does not detract, but rather reinforces the commentary made about forgotten lives.