The Make Art, Not War Exhibit

The Make Art, Not War exhibit was a project I did with a fellow member of Dartmouth’s Class of 2020, Makisa Bronson, and McKenna Conlin. 

My note on the exhibit, originally published on Medium:

Photograph by Melissa Cain/ The Make Art, Not War Exhibit & The Mumbai Art Collective

In light of recent developments in India, especially Delhi, it is important to recognise the healing power of art, and its ability to build bridges that have been burnt in the most horrific ways, by forces outside the control of the artist. I hope that by viewing The Make Art, Not War exhibit, you, the viewer, will be able to gain some critical distance from the events currently unravelling in India’s capital, and across the social media sphere, and ask fundamental questions about the true nature of war, as GurMehar Kaur aimed to do in her video.

The Mumbai Art Collective hosted this cross-border exhibition, starting June 2017, which is archived here. This exhibition was brought together through the work of McKenna Conlin and Makisa Bronson, the manifestation of a month-long exchange programme where Iraqi and American students visited three cities in the USA.

People your age, and mine, are the focal points of this project They are no Michelangelos and Warhols, but they are their own artists, each bringing unique experiences to the canvas. They bring together centuries of collective experience, largely first-hand, with the horrors of war, from the perspective of the occupied and the occupier. There is an aestheticization of war, but the pain, dismay, and suffering is evident on the surface of the artworks.

The quotes that accompany the artworks and photographs, too, are unique insights into the true nature of war. Most of the people who are quoted are in their late teens, and are people like you and me, who unfortunately grew up in the shadow of war, and in the twilight of the Saddam Hussein regime. There’s a nostalgia for the old, and a vibrant hope for the future. There’s an expression of bravado, however, that is striking: to be able to live life normally.



Dear Viewer,

In the summer of 2015, we were two of 10 American students selected to participate in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), a month-long cultural exchange with 30 Iraqi high school students where we learned about foreign affairs, diplomacy, and life in the Middle East. As a follow-on to the program, each participant completed an action project relevant to what they learned on the program.

With those lessons in mind, the two of us have decided to create Make Art, Not War, the art exhibit you are currently viewing, wherein we recruited American youth artists to create art that depicts aspects of Iraqi culture not often discussed in Western culture and media. We hoped to inspire these artists with Iraqi students’ responses to the following questions:

● What is the biggest problem in Iraq that you believe most Americans aren’t aware of?
● What part of your culture (as an Iraqi) are you most proud of and would like to tell people about?

As you will see, each piece has been displayed along with the quote that inspired it. As a complement to the artwork, we have also included a selected 16 photos shot by our friend and mentor Mellisa Cain on her trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2016. We hope to educate the international community about the liveliness that exists in Iraqi culture and the unique struggles that Iraqis face on a daily basis–we want people to look past their stereotypes of Iraq as being an unstable, terrorist-ridden, and war-torn nation, and to truly learn about the lives of the people who live there every day.

Thank you so much for viewing our digital collection, and for being willing to keep an open mind about those different from you.

Makisa Bronson and McKenna Conlin.


Hosted by The Mumbai Art Collective. The copyright for all images and artworks rests with the respective artists and have been used with their express written permission. For more information, please write to me.