‘Breaking the Mold’ exhibit reshapes the narrative of veteran experiences

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

The latest exhibit in the Student Union Fine Arts Gallery, “Breaking the Mold,” aims to change the narrative when it comes to veterans.

Boise State student Mandee Snowden-Edmonds, in collaboration with the university’s art curator, Fonda Portales, began brainstorming ideas for ways to represent the community of veterans on campus. Snowden-Edmonds, a senior majoring in history with an emphasis in art history, gender and languages, served as a military police officer from 2007-2012. 

Together the two present the “Breaking the Mold” exhibit, showcasing the talents within the veteran community. The exhibit consists of a variety of methods, mediums and subjects, displaying the various ways members of the community wanted to express themselves. The theme of the exhibit aims to combat stereotypes often associated with the veteran community. 

“We tend to get shoeboxed into a singular view,” Snowden-Edmonds said. “I really wanted to showcase what a vast array that we are because service members as a whole are this myriad of people.” 

The structure of the exhibit further reflects this idea. A piece representing a war scene is placed next to a drawing of Marilyn Monroe, and similar juxtapositions are seen throughout the exhibit. Snowden-Edmonds shared that the show was set up in a particular way to illustrate the range of experiences and views different veterans bring. 

“[It] shows this multifaceted view that we have and that we experience. I’m hoping it helps challenge what people think of when they think of what a veteran means,” Snowden-Edmonds said. “At any angle of the show, you can see a bright spot of paint. There’s color there to help guide you through it. It’s very metaphorical – even when you’re surrounded by chaos, there’s a bright spot.” 

Height is also explored as a way to showcase the different hurdles veterans often come across, not only as veterans, but as veterans who are now students. 

“It’s meant to be representative of what the veteran experience often tends to be when you’re in school. It’s not a straightforward path,” Snowden-Edmonds said. “There’s a lot more emotions that we tend to play with, especially as students who have these unique experiences [and] sometimes you have to learn how to place the ugly next to the pretty and work through it.” 

Snowden-Edmonds herself presented a piece in the exhibit. Her piece “Virago” is an art project from a former class.

Snowden-Edmonds shared that she dedicated the sculpture to her friend who had passed away from breast cancer. In her artist statement, Snowden-Edmonds said the mix of metals, wires and nails used for the sculpture are representative of the pain felt from illnesses inside of us, not always visible to others. 

[“Breaking the Mold” exhibit, located in the Student Union Fine Arts Gallery.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Two of the other artists featured in the exhibit are Samantha Archide, a veteran from the U.S. Air Force and a junior majoring in illustration, and Colton Nelson, a veteran from the U.S. Marine Corps and a senior majoring in business administration. 

Nelson contributed penciled drawings of different subjects, ranging from his grandfather to Marilyn Monroe. His featured work also includes a color pencil drawing titled “A Marine at Peleliu” showcasing the Battle of Peleliu, a battle fought during World War II that Nelson feels is important to bring attention to. 

Nelson shared that he has a really deep admiration for veterans of the past, specifically those that fought in World War II in the Pacific campaigns. 

“The young men that went over there to do that are heroes in my eyes. The stuff they had to endure was just, I mean, these stories and memoirs have blown my mind,” Nelson said.

As an artist, Nelson’s work is centered around military experiences, and he hopes to see similar stories represented in other forms of media. Acknowledging his featured drawing of Johnny Cash in the exhibit, Nelson said he would rather see those he feels are real-life heroes at the forefront of conversations. 

“We love fake heroes in movies … when there’s actual people that are alive today that did incredible things. I just feel like those people deserve the recognition that superheroes get because it actually happened,” Nelson said. “If I could ever nail down a purpose for my artwork, it would be to draw attention to people that I think deserve to actually be famous.” 

Archide also tells stories of those not often featured in the spotlight. As an artist, her work contains themes that highlight other cultures, as well as stories told from the women’s perspective. She feels that these stories aren’t always shown in art, and it’s important to her to incorporate that into her work. 

Archide’s oil painting titled “Reclamation” is based on one of her friends, showcasing the two sides to someone in the military. 

“I knew I wanted to do a woman of color for the focal point because with military work, you often see men in uniform, so I [asked], ‘how can I break the mold not only with what I’m going to do but also who I’m showing in the piece?’” Archide said. “I wanted the piece to show the two different people within you when you’re in the military, and I thought a playing card would be a cool way to show the two different sides.” 

Archide’s hope for visitors of the exhibit is that people walk away with a new perspective on what being a veteran can look like. 

“When you look at a veteran, there’s more than meets the eye,” Archide said. “People are always surprised when they find out I’m an art major, because that’s not [a] traditional degree people go for after the military. Being a veteran is a big part of you, but there’s so much more. There’s lots of interests.” 

Snowden-Edmonds shared that she hopes for continued representation of veterans to take place in the art community. Whether or not it’s an artistic showcase, she wants the “Breaking the Mold” exhibit to inspire others to create their own events about veterans that aren’t just centered around their military service. 

“We had a lot of community feedback that they were so thankful that this was going on,” Snowden-Edmonds said. “We get events like Veterans Day, but other than that we’re usually forgotten and it’s nice when you’re seen as a whole person, not just your uniform. It’s an important component of who you are, but it’s not the entirety of who we are.” 

“Breaking the Mold” is open to the public in the Student Union Fine Arts Gallery until April 9.

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