Robert Schultz and Binh Danh. Civil War and Vietnam Collaboration
The collaboration between visual artist Binh Danh and poet Robert Schultz became visible in 2009 when The Virginia Quarterly Review published a gallery of six images and the poems they inspired, then five poems and corresponding images appeared in Subtropics. That spring The Northwest Review published the sestina “Camouflage” and featured Binh Danh’s print “Battlefield No. 3” on its cover.
In Binh Danh’s leafprints—photographs developed by chlorophyll action in the flesh of leaves—the artist resurrects victims of the Vietnam-American war and the Cambodian genocide, expressing cycles both karmic and organic. Having appropriated portraits of Khmer Rouge victims taken as they were processed into the Tuol Sleng torture prison, Danh has commented: “I hope they will be alive in us as we remember them, and in return we give them life.” In Danh’s daguerreotypes such an empathic response is encouraged when the viewer sees his or her own image reflected in the work’s metallic surface, mingled with the subject.
In response to Binh Danh’s themes and images, Robert Schultz’s poetry expresses cycles, recurrences, and reflections through his use of echoing rhyme schemes and forms that employ repeated lines or phrases—pantoums, senstinas, villanelles, ghazals, and triolets.
More recently, Binh Danh, who has responded so feelingly to Southeast Asia’s civil wars, has begun to examine the landscapes and memorials of the American Civil War. And in this new context, leafprints made by Danh and Schultz together echo Walt Whitman’s central trope—the leaves of common grass seen as hieroglyphic:
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
. . . This grass is very dark to be from the whit heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
A joint exhibition of text and image, War Memoranda: Photography, Walt Whitman and Renewal, will open at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia in February 2015 and run through the end of the Civil War Sesquicentennial observances. Poems and artworks treating the violence in Vietnam and Cambodia are included in Robert Schultz’s Ancestral Altars, which will be issued as a multimedia iBook by Artist’s Proof Editions in Spring 2015.