November 17th, 2010
04:45 PM ET

'American Kills' public art highlights military suicide

Sebastian Errazuriz used the side of his Brooklyn studio to highlight military suicide.

A New York-based artist is using a wall as his canvas to draw attention to the suicide rate among U.S. troops.

The simple exhibit, titled “American Kills,” compares U.S. military suicides in 2009 to the number of troops killed in the Iraq War over the same time period.

Sebastian Errazuriz, 32, used a series of black strokes on the outside of his white-cinderblock Brooklyn studio so that passersby can see at a glance the disparity between the death tolls.

“The counting of dead soldiers outside my studio was long and surprisingly eerie; it was hard to forget that every brush stroke was a soldier who had died the previous year,” Errazuriz said on his website.

The Chilean-born artist, who says he often leans on the “the dichotomies of life and death” in his art, came up with the idea after perusing Internet sites about war. He discovered there were more than twice the number of suicides in the military (304) than there were U.S. troop deaths during the Iraq War in 2009.

(Errazuriz’s sources peg the latter number at 149, while CNN’s war casualty database has a tally of 150).

Errazuriz had never heard the statistic before. He was shocked as well to learn the number of suicides rivaled the number of U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan that year.

He first announced the statistic on Facebook, but it elicited little response so “he bought a can of black paint and decided to ‘post’ the news in the real world,” his website explains.

With a ladder and a paintbrush, he proceeded to make a black stroke for every dead soldier, categorizing them by the branch of the armed forces in which they served.

A passerby stops to study Errazuriz's statement.

“A lot of people stopped to read the mural and were immediately impressed by the reality portrayed,” Errazuriz said.

“I tried to explain that I simply wished to create a physical image that could capture people's imagination, creating awareness of the current numbers in death, war and the infinite discrepancy between the resources and energies destined to fight and protect soldiers at war versus the energies invested in protecting their mental health
and stability.”

Suicide in the U.S. military is a growing concern, and the recent “startling increase” in the U.S. Army prompted a $50 million study last year by four universities and the National Institute of Mental Health, according to Columbia University.

Dr. Robert Ursano, head of the project and director of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences' Center for Traumatic Stress Studies in Bethesda, Maryland, told Psychiatric News last year that the study – the largest-ever military study of suicide and mental health – represented the first partnership of its kind.

“This is a unique joining of the Department of Defense and the NIMH to address an issue of national security that will also build tools with peacetime implications,” Ursano said.

Errazuriz routinely finds unorthodox means to present his art and last year worked with 40 volunteers to plant 1,100 crosses in a waterside park in Brooklyn to illustrate the number of people who die in New York City each week.

He’s also created furniture and sculptures and designed clothing, including sexy dresses made of latex gloves or zippers and a fur coat made of teddy bears.

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Filed under: Art • Chile • Health • Iraq • New York • War
soundoff (247 Responses)
  1. Nate H

    I agree with many of the comments below. I served with LT Jake Joubert and he has been working on an (eerily?) similar project (except on a much grander scale) for quite some time.

    My advice is that anyone who is impressed by this article should check out Jake's work. His Facebook page is listed numerous times by other commenters, but you can also hear an excellent interview of Jake with NPRs Dick Gordon, on a show called "The Story", that aired back in July.

    Here's the link:
    http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_1083_Jacob_Joubert_.mp3/view

    Check it out. I think you'll be impressed.

    November 20, 2010 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. NAVY CHIEF

    Great concept....Too bad the concept has already been created by Navy LT Jake Joubert.
    1. Try some original artwork.
    2. CNN, do some research.
    One man creates art that represents the men and women he has served with and those who have gone before us with the intent to honor them. Another copies his idea with the idea to make a name for himself.
    If you want to make a name for yourself, put on a uniform and learn what it means to sacrifice.

    November 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CANCOW

    Nice job CNN, Jake Joubert has been working on his project for quite some time. Made the NC NPR and has been on Facebook since its inception. His project is the same concept but deals with only suicide victims of the military. While suicide is a terrible mental disease, the idea the Joubert has deals with all of the military who have given their lives. Suicide is not just a problem with people who go to Iraq or Afghanistan, it is a problem with non-combatant personnel who have never seen combat or deployment. Give Joubert a fair shake and put his story on your CNN news programs/website. The death of all military personnel is significant not just the ones who kill themselves.

    November 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Emily

    http://www.collaborateunlimited.com/Joubert_Studio.html
    To see the original work.

    November 22, 2010 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bwonka

    How does someone receive media coverage for a pirated idea from a Naval Officer, Jacob Joubert, and not name his source of inspiration from the ORIGINAL artist. Seek truth and support:

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=136662789681633

    November 22, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Savvy

    I appreciate anyone trying to shed light on any and all military conflicts, especially when the light is shed on the conflicts that the soldiers are going through themselves....but I know the originator of this idea & his name is NOT Sebastian...Jacob Joubert and his "In Memoriam" project spans all deaths through all major conflicts in an eerily similar way. Not to mention it was started MANY months before the subject at hand, and its a hell of a lot more artistic.http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=136662789681633

    November 23, 2010 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Li Mcraven

    Hi .. many thanks for your awsome posting .. i discovered this by simply browsing on yahoo. I allready bookmark it and wish to view more great posts by you! Cheers 🙂

    December 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Harleychaps

    Mind, Body and Soul. Suicide impacts all three, however is rooted in the Soul. Call it your inner self, core, or Id, the problem is that an individual is confronted with a situation that they are challenged with, (humiliation). Their inner self/soul is damaged and is not resiliant enough to compensate for the damage incurred. Thus the soul convinces the mind to instruct the flesh to end life. Resilancy of the inner core is the only answer. A weak core is a weak individual, regardless of brain or muscle mass.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. Nathan Tierney

    Great insight into the problems the military and their families are facing. In 2007, an independent non partisan study conducted by Harvard University found that “…we can expect the total cost of providing lifetime medical care to veterans to reach $600bn” and the amount will increase exponentially as our overseas commitments for the wars continue. Traumatic injuries and multiple deployments have upon professional soldiers and families. This is evidenced by increased instances of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), swelling suicide rates, and rising domestic and substance abuse among our service members. Consequently, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 25% of soldiers suffer from PTSD. Simultaneously, veterans currently represent 25% of the homeless population, 21% of the unemployed, and 20% of U.S. suicides. Curbing these disturbing statistics within our military requires our national collective focus, and active citizenship on behalf of Americans whom our military is sworn to protect. Though the launch of Frontlines, (www.thefrontlines.com), is a significant accomplishment, it is only the beginning step to transform our nation through engagement and support of active citizenship. I believe we can bridge the divide between military and civilian cultures, through promoting candid conversation regarding the cost of war to our nation and its protectors. Our brave service members require neither sympathy nor accolades, but rather a supportive environment where voices can be heard in an open, inclusive dialogue. It is only through preservation and education that our nation will remain great, and can we hope our grandchildren understand serving for a cause greater than oneself.
    Any assistance you can give in spreading the word about The Frontlines would be greatly appreciated. To learn more about our cause please visit the website at http://www.thefrontlines.com. Thank you very much for your time.

    Very respectfully,
    Nathan W. Tierney
    CW3(P), USA
    nathan@thefrontlines.com

    January 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
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