Artist's Statement

 When I started this in 2005 I knew from my earlier public art projects that any group of regular people can express themselves in a powerful way if given a chance. With 100 Faces of War I aimed to look at Americans who serve in the war the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a way that did not simplify their complex experience.

We live in a time where the veteran’s story is often used for political purposes by both pro-military and anti-war factions. It is important to take a moment to think about how and why this happens in order to understand how 100 Faces is different.

In the 1970’s something happened that still has a massive effect upon American culture: the US military became all-volunteer force. Before that there was a draft. During the draft anyone of age could be legally required to serve in the military. Switching to an all-volunteer force was a big change with far reaching consequences.

Since becoming an all-volunteer force the military has had to advertise for itself continuously in order to bring in volunteers. This public outreach takes many forms, some examples are: large budget high school recruitment campaigns, presence at professional sporting events, extensive involvement in Hollywood, and engagement in video game development.  I think of these efforts a “Cultural Draft”. They are a long-term, often behind-the-scenes, effort to attract people to the armed forces. They’re happening because the US doesn’t have a traditional draft.

Another important thing about in our moment in history is the role of the peace movement. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan activists have usually been quick to declare their appreciation for the men and women serving. In contrast to the Vietnam era, the protesters of this era have usually made a point of aiming their criticism at the government rather than at the troops. Often peace advocates have reached out to veterans, portraying their struggles to the public in order to cause an awareness of the human costs of war.

It could be said that both the military and the peace movement support those who have served in these wars. However, both sides also have their motivations for showing veterans. On the one hand the military has an advertising campaign that must glorify the armed forces. On the other hand the peace movement frequently uses veteran’s stories to show them as unwitting victims. 

The 100 Faces of War exhibition aims to see those who went to war from America in a more holistic way. What was the total nature of the human experience of going into these wars? The challenge was simply to take an open look. I accepted no military funding. Each person pictured chose how they wanted to be dressed and what they wanted to say next to their portrait. For posthumous portraits the family chose the attire and words. 

I met each living person to start their portrait. Sitting for an artist was an unusual thing for each of them. I was looking at them intently with the idea of showing their likeness to the public. We often talked about their time in war. In these conversations some participants said that they were telling me things they had never told anyone else before. 


-Matt Mitchell




Project description

The 100 Faces project wa created from 2005-2014 shows a cross section of the Americans who have gone to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  One hundred people were chosen to represent the statistics of the American involvement in these conflicts.  Each person met the artist to have their portrait painted.  Then that person chose what they wanted to say next to their portrait.  They could choose to say whatever they wanted.  


More about the 100 Faces project:

One very important part of this project is that it is meant to be a cross section of the American experience of these wars.  It is a survey.  If someone is included in the project it does not mean the artist thought they were more important than other people.  The goal was to try to find a range of people that represent all the different statistics of the American involvement.  Therefore this is not meant to be a gallery of people who represent some ideal of service.  Instead it is an attempt at a simple, open look at what the American involvement has been.

That said, there are ten portraits included that show people who died in service, and the artist would like to acknowledge the risks and dangers faced by all of those who have gone from America into the war zones.  For these portraits the artist talked with the families concerned.  The families provided photos to work from and they provided the words that accompany the portrait.  Ten is a larger number than would be shown in this project if the artist had stuck to pure statistics for these choices.  However the artist believed it was important to show this part of war.  The artist is deeply thankful for all the families that have allowed him into their grief.  Providing the pictures and the words has been a great challenge to many of the families concerned.  The posthumous portraits were chosen to show the different kinds of mortal dangers Americans have faced in these wars and the different backgrounds of the people serving in these wars.  

The artist Matt Mitchell started the 100 Faces project of his own initiative in 2005 and completed the work in 2014.  The project consists of 100 Portraits of Americans who have been to the theaters of war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Each portrait is accompanied by words chosen by the person pictured and a brief bio of that person. The bio, the words, and the portrait reflect that person in that moment.  All of the portraits and words will be kept together and exhibited together as a single unit, a single installation.

The artist met each person pictured in the project and started their portrait in that meeting.  The meetings lasted from 2 hours to 8 hours.  Some participants came to the studio several times for as much as 18 hours together. The paintings measure 26"x30" showing each person's head and shoulders at life size.  The paintings are oil on canvas painted in traditional layering techniques.  The total time Matt spent on each painting wass between 40 and 80 hours.  For posthumous portraits the families provided photos to work from and provided the words to accompany the portrait.

The artist did not know what any person would say when they were chosen to be part of the project.  Instead each person was chosen based on statistical data. This group is meant to be a cross section of the American experience.  A few allowances were made to show particular jobs or roles that marked signature experiences of these wars.  For the majority of portraits, however, the goal was to get the  the whole project to accurately represent the proportions of the American involvement.  In order to develop a good working picture of the statistics Matt worked with Dr. Dan Burland, a sociologist of the American Military and the Family in 2009, after working on his own for four years. Together they interpreted Department of Defense statistics to understand the proportions for several categories of background and role in the war zone.  These categories include: branch of service, gender, race, career field, dates of deployment, country deployed to, and officer vs. enlisted. The 100 Faces project also includes 5 people who went from America into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a civilian capacity.  These people include a non governmental organization worker, a journalist/artist, a federal worker, and contractors.  These civilians are shown to acknowledge this part of the American civilian involvement in these wars. The 100 Faces project also represents at least one person from each of the 50 states.

The people who are part of this project have performed a service by being in the project.  Often it is very difficult for people to talk publicly about who they are in the context of having gone to war.  The artist is thankful for each participant who has taken the time to illuminate difficult issues or who has boldly taken the project in their own direction.  Yet it must be clear that 100 Faces is not intended to be a gallery of people who were somehow more heroic or deserving than others. Instead they were chosen for their statistical ability to represent the whole. 

Two and a half million people deployed from America into these war zones. Each of the people pictured in 100 Faces of War represents 2,500 people who made the same journey.

Thank you for taking the time to look at 100 Faces of War Experience.