The Transition Home


I’ve always found art museums relaxing. Not because of the sculptures and paintings themselves; rather, I enjoy the stroll through warmly lit hallways, pausing methodically in front of colossal explosions of paint. I ask why…why is this art? Why did some poor kid from the middle of nowhere dedicate his life’s work to something I feel a five year-old could have replicated on accident? And for a minute or two of silence, I stare at a piece of art and attempt to pierce into its creator’s soul. That is, of course, until I regain consciousness and conclude that I have no idea what he was thinking.

Last month, I made one such journey to the Seattle Art Museum. But this time, even from over 100m away, a bright and shiny sculpture caught my eye…

Some/One by Do-Ho Suh

I strolled up closely to find that this piece of art was actually 40,000 dog tags strung together to create a lavish and regal cloak. 40,000 dog tags. I still have the dog tags I carried through my year in Afghanistan. They dangled in my back right pant’s pocket the entire time.  They’re bent, shiny, and weathered…I suppose much like myself. It was hard to consider the number of dog tags laying before me. 40,000. Now, we all know that there have been nowhere near 40,000 KIA in the wars of this generation. Nor have there been so many WIAs. But I think what this sculpture encompasses is a demographic I recently heard coined as “The Invisible Wounded”.

There are many of us who go overseas and serve our country, and though our scars may not be physical in nature, they are certainly painful. Though it only sounds like a soldier spends 12 months in combat, the psychological effects can last far longer. Though it is only the soldier who deploys, it is the mother, the father, the children, the wives and husbands who are asked to sacrifice so much along with them. Perhaps 40,000 dog tags on this sculpture is appropriate after all.

I looked for the description of the artist. To my great surprise, the artist was not American…but Korean! The sculpture was entitled “Some/One” By an artist named Do-Ho Suh. I was astonished, and partially offended. What is an outsider to the American military contribution building sculpture out of dog tags for?! That takes some nerve! But in retrospect of my six weeks spent in Korea as a West Point Cadet, I recalled the effect that a conscript army has on a society. Every single male in Korea serves in some capacity towards the betterment of his country. Perhaps as an outsider, a Korean looking at our democracy, I can understand how astonishing it can be to have a democracy of nearly 300 million people sustained through a force of about .5% of its benefactors.

The cloak of democracy fits a little heavier on those bearing the armor and ammunition in combat. And as warm of a welcome as I’ve had upon returning to the United States, it still feels lonely. It still feels like my experience is foreign to most. Seeing this sculpture elicited so many philosophical questions and seething emotions I had buried through my twelve months in Kandahar. But at the end, it was nice to know that such a sentiment was showcased in a major city’s portfolio. I hope that you’ll consider this piece of art and what it means to you.


6 responses

  1. defendUSA

    The cloak of democracy surely equals the strength of the men and women who wore the dog tags and who bear the scars we cannot see.

    It is a perfect salute for those who have sacrificed and I believe it shows that whomever created it, he understands what freedom means.

    22 September 10 at 19:08

  2. Irene Clark

    Thanks for sharing this unusual piece of art work Rajiv. It certainly takes up space. And with it all kinds of questions…where did these dog tags come from? Who do they represent? Who knows what prompted the artist to make this piece. Perhaps it is to honor those who have bravely fought. Perhaps it is for all soldiers….some/one who once wore a dog tag. For some/one who feels empty and alone. It shows tedious tender work perhaps blended together with love that for some reason is unknown to us who view it. Perhaps it is a symbol of many becoming one.
    Regardless, art work can bring forth many emotions. A slight memory comes to the surface. But, with it we can remember that there was a purpose why we spent time viewing this piece of art. Perhaps within it comes a tiny bit of inner healing…..we are many, but we are one. Together we have risen up and we take on the cloak of oneness. We deal with our inner struggles by asking God to make us whole once again. We strive to understand what we know not. We move on and long for the past not to be an ever nagging presence. We breathe and thank God that we were given breath for another day. We thank God for another chance to start anew. Thank you for your continued sharing…..keep on keeping on. You are blessed!

    22 September 10 at 19:55

  3. Meredith

    What an eloquent post…I love the way you discussed Some/one, the cloak of democracy, and the individual soldiers (and loved ones) who put everything on the line for our collective good. I wish the artist would stumble across your post….so beautiful Rajiv!

    Thank you for introducing me to the phrase “The Invisible Wounded.” I hadn’t read it before, but it is so expressive. I can only imagine how lonely and isolating it is to experience deployment and all the traumas of war then to return home where most people don’t know what it’s like. If we did, things would be better. I’m struck by how little I know about what losses and pain people (including my friends and loved ones) have gone through.

    In June we were eating dinner at an outdoor cafe when a guy walked by holding a cell phone. He yelled out: “My mom just died! F***!” All I knew to say was “I’m so sorry!” He kept walking. I’m not sure I’d recognize him if I saw him again. I may have passed him today without a glance, much less a word of support.

    I am so glad that you are posting this fall – we miss you and love you!

    22 September 10 at 20:27

  4. Cam Srpan

    What a most interesting piece of art. Am not really sure how I feel about it…a tribute,I guess…but very odd. I can imagine the emotions that it stirred in you. Thank you for sharing this.

    22 September 10 at 21:51

  5. Kahee

    It’s possible that he’s Korean-American… a lot of us keep our names you know!

    26 September 10 at 01:04

  6. Rajiv: great post! I’m sharing with friends that are sculptors/artists.

    Thinking of you and wishing you well!

    5 October 10 at 02:44

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