The Portable War Memorial, 1968
Edward Kienholz was inspired for this work by the restoration of the island of Iwo Jima, which the US had seized in 1946, to Japan in 1968. The motif of the group of soldiers derived from a prize-winning press photo that a journalist had shot after the capture of the island. Although the photo was posed, the motif was used for postage stamps, posters, and a famous war memorial near Washington DC. Metal handles on the plate on which Kienholz’s group of headless soldiers stands refer to the title: The Portable War Memorial. With it, memorials appear just as exchangeable as the 475 nations, drawn on the chalkboard, that once existed around the world. Wars have redrawn the borders. On the far left, the woman in a barrel represents the pop singer Kate Smith, who became famous in 1938 with her rendition of “God Bless America.” Next to her hangs the mobilization poster with Uncle Sam, which was used to recruit soldiers in 1917. On the right, everyday life continues as usual, just a small, burned Tarzan at the very bottom of the right gravestone recalls the nuclear threat overshadowing the daily routine.