Art center exhibit ponders war.

November 5, 2014

Type 56 Nightmare Small Image-2Showing through November 25, Ludington Area Center for the Arts. 

Opening Reception Friday, November 7, 5-7 p.m.

Review written by Steve Bachleda.

War is a very large subject and any visual art exhibit about this subject runs the risk of attempting too much.  Tom Ronquillo does not make this mistake in his masterful collection of Vietnam War visual montages which comprise the current art exhibit at the Ludington Area Center for the Arts.  Mr. Ronquillo served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Green Beret and he uses his very deep and difficult experience to create works which are visually powerful testaments to the complex theme of man’s inhumanity to man but which are brought into focus from one man’s perspective.

The works are tied together with a recurring bayonet motif.  To quote Mr. Ronquillo:  “Using composite photographic images, the exhibit’s focus is on a spike bayonet attached to a Chinese-made Kalashnikov rifle known as a “Type 56.” …The photo composites repeatedly depict the bayonet as a looming threat in various imaginary scenarios.”  And while the images are profound and disturbing, they are not graphic in a way that should scare people from seeing this show.  The images are abstracted enough to provide at least some distance from the events Mr. Ronquillo experienced.  But a viewer with patience and perception will earn at least some of Mr. Ronquillo’s understanding.

There are over 20 works in the show and I will summarize briefly my thoughts on several of them so readers and potential viewers will have some idea of what to expect.  “Sweet Death” shows a bayonet approaching a mask face up on the ground.  The mask’s expression is a blend of fear, relief, happiness, and grief.

“Sun Rays” is a serene nature scene where war transforms the sun’s rays into bayonet instruments of death.  A Vietnamese girl watches impassively as four stages of death are symbolized by four faces/masks on the jungle floor.

“Brain Trauma” uses the American war slogan “Winning Hearts and Minds” but then juxtaposes these words ironically with an x-ray of a skull with bayonets protruding from it.

“Claymore” is another forest scene with a ghostly image of what looked to me like Ho Chi Minh as an actual looming part of the jungle.  He is gazing down at an American soldier crouched and looking up with anxiety.

“Trail Waiting” pictures a young Vietnamese girl at one end of a forest trail and a helmet with a bayonet, probably worn and held by a North Vietnamese or Viet Cong soldier, at the other end  Another ghostly image of a death mask also looms over the scene.

Good art asks more questions than it answers and that is the case with this fine show.  The Vietnam War ended over 40 years ago but for those of us who came of age during that time it seems like yesterday.   Even though that specific war is the background of this exhibit, the pictures are also about all wars and about what they do to all the human beings directly affected by them.  Tom Ronquillo will be presenting his work at the opening reception at LACA on Friday, November 7.  Do not miss the opportunity to see this show either then or some other time during this month.

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