How would your life would change if you lost a limb? What if you had to stop playing a sport you enjoy or depend more on your family for help with daily activities? Would you adapt to the loss or fall into depression and resentment? For soldiers in battle, such questions aren’t hypothetical—they’re everyday workplace considerations. More than 36,000 U.S. military personnel have lost limbs or suffered musculoskeletal (say, spinal or joint) injuries since the September 11 attacks. And as long as we keep fighting, soldiers will keep coming home impaired.
Wounded in Action: An Art Exhibition of Orthopaedic Advancements honors the sacrifices made by injured soldiers and explores the many emotions associated with sustaining a severe battle injury. Organized by the Rosemont-based American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the show features 107 pieces, including paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media works, and digital art. Among the 77 contributors are soldiers, family members, and military surgeons who’ve cared for the wounded.
Though inevitably uneven in quality, given the variety of skill levels represented, most of the works in Wounded in Action manage to make powerful statements about how people cope with serious loss. One of the most poignant and thought provoking is Barbara Balzer’s Comfort, a sculpted clay hand with a jagged edge where the wrist should be. Even though it’s been severed, the hand communicates vitality through its flexed fingers: two press down into the earth, three point up toward the sky. Another standout is Peter Langan’s Naval Officer/Amputee 1973, an oil portrait of a lieutenant commander standing on crutches, one leg missing, his face full of grief. An orthopedic surgeon, Langan spent the early 1970s treating injured troops and began painting after sustaining a knee injury himself. This sort of deeply personal connection between subject and artist is evident in most of the works, and ultimately gives it coherence.