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Color of War

Steve Mumford, an artist embedded with the U.S. Army, is recreating daily life in Iraq through art.

In 1861, Harper's Weekly sent a young Winslow Homer to the battlefields of the Civil War. At the front, Homer captured the horrors of the conflict, but he also returned with something unexpected and, ultimately, more memorable: sketches of the everyday happenings of soldiers in camp. The work humanized the war for a public inured to depictions of battle and bloodshed. Nearly 150 years later, Steve Mumford, an artist who was embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq, has achieved a similar goal.Mumford's drawings and paintings focus both on the ephemera of daily life in Iraq and on the experiences of the soldiers with whom he traveled-from Iraqis smoking pipes in a tea house to U.S. soldiers arresting suspected insurgents. His book, Baghdad Journal, is a stunning visual chronicle of his ten months spent in the war as the only artist embedded with the armed forces. A series of larger and more detailed oil paintings of his time in Iraq was recently on display at New York City's Postmasters Gallery.With images of the war instantly available and paraded daily across newsstands and television sets, Mumford's meticulous work allows for a clearer, more considered view of the conflict. "To me the strength is depicting what it was like in a moment and a place," he says. "What that trades in is the emotion on people's faces. It's not about whether war is good or bad, it's just about what it's like. Anything else is what the viewer brings to it."Even though his months in Iraq changed his position on the war from "opposed" to "hopeful," he wants to keep politics out of his art. "I have no authority to generalize about what it was like in Iraq as a whole," Mumford says. "It's neither proper nor intuitively the right thing to do to try and use the work for political change, because I have no idea what that would be."LEARN MORE

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