Mosaic Art

DVIDS – News – Airman builds intercultural bridges with murals | Pro Club Bd

Imagine our life today as we read this story, helping our daughters with their homework, children playing in the yard while parents prepare dinner. A week goes by and now you’re running, unsure if you’ll make it to the airport. Your world is turned upside down and you have hours, not weeks, to determine what fits in a single suitcase as you escape from the only home you know. No return to collecting family heirlooms passed down through generations, no return to collecting personal items. The life you built is left behind. Your life and the life of your family and now depends on getting your hands on a one-way ticket to an unknown place where the language and culture are alien. Imagine you are so desperate to save your family that you hand your baby over a fence to a stranger, hoping they will make it. Because not trying would result in death. So many people have experienced the horrors we can only imagine in the past year. Losing those stories would be a disservice to their legacy and the front row seats they sat in while the world changed forever.

Telling a story, someone else’s story, comes with great responsibility. TSgt Barone has set herself this task as her personal mission.

Barone, an intelligence analyst with the 126th Intelligence Squadron, volunteered her services to host refugees from Afghanistan for Operation Allies Welcome at Joint Base McGuire Ft. Dix in New Jersey. There, Task Force Commander Col. Rahel, himself an Afghan immigrant, wanted to give a voice to the refugees as well as to the Airmen who worked on the mission. He wanted their history to be preserved for future generations.

“There has been talk of our task force commander wanting this done to record the history of these people. I have experience painting murals, so I volunteered,” explained Barone, who later became the project’s team leader. “…this would give me an opportunity to talk to people and really hear their stories.”

Rahel and Barone understood the importance of not only speaking for the Afghan evacuees, but allowing them to tell their own stories. And so began a partnership. Barone led a team of eighteen people, some eight soldiers and ten fugitives, to create the following masterpiece.

“We actually asked the Afghan refugees to help paint. So we spoke to some of them, got their stories and designed the mural to encompass their journey from Afghanistan to the villages and then out to America.”

Within the team of artists who designed the mural was an Afghan village elder who was a mosaic artist by trade in Afghanistan. His contribution to the mural was the large arch depicting architecture in Afghanistan. Another evacuee and muralist, a thirteen-year-old girl, told Barone her story of a quick escape carrying nothing but a knapsack, which held her last physical liaison before evacuation from Afghanistan to the United States.

Barone recalls the emotional moments listening to the evacuees describe their journeys, and she knew this mural would reflect just that.
“Their stories are very sad,” Barone said. “But you will see that sadness and fear turn into a beautiful thing now that they are safe.”

After several days of planning and sketching with pencil and crayon, the team began the seventeen-day process to transform three blank canvases into a twelve-foot wide and six-foot-tall image of the historic journey.

“We wanted it to be portable,” Barone recalls. “So we said we’re going to do this on canvases. And then we sketched it there and changed and added things over time. Some days it was 12 hours, other days it was 8 hours.”

Barone’s ability to tell this story through art has not come without challenges. It wasn’t enough to just have characters on screen. The stories had to be told and therefore the small details that bring a silhouette to life through the curves of their profiles, the weight of their pockets on the back; everything had to be meticulously illustrated. To do this, planning was crucial to ensure there was adequate time for the paint to dry between coats. Paint was bleeding and blending in areas that required continuous touch ups to proceed to the next phase. Barone smiled as he recalled the last four days of the project, reviewing the final product and continuing to make fixes, correcting and improving aspects of the design.

“We wanted to make sure it was perfect.”

People can take the Afghan journey that so many others have experienced by visiting the mural that currently hangs at the Air Force Expeditionary Center at McGuire Air Force Base. The journey depicts the beginning of their journey in Afghanistan, carrying their whole lives on their backs as they begin their journey to America. Three tents represent the villages that were built at McGuire AFB where refugees stayed while their visas were processed. The refugees move from the villages to the United States to start a new life there.

Barone himself has not been deployed to Afghanistan during the twenty-year conflict. The conflict has shaped many of our lives, both for those directly involved in the operations and for civilians not directly involved. This mural is slated for future exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.

A story like the heroic escape from one’s homeland is a story worth telling and worth sharing for generations to come. Barone’s mural honors the sacrifice of the evacuees as well as the contributions of the soldiers and soldiers who played life-changing roles in the lives of the Afghan people.

Date of recording: 04.08.2022
Release Date: 14.07.2022 12:30
Story ID: 424975

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