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. StillMARINE!

    I just wanted to clear up one thing someone said earlier. That "going to Iraq or Afghan is the cause of the numbers being so high." Thats not true. Out of the 22 Marines that commited suicide before July of this year, 9 had never deployed. 4 killed themselves in theatre, and 9 post-deloyment.

    And its not just "the brass" turning their backs. Its happening through out the ranks. In the ranks of E1- E3 there were 9, E4-E5 had 9, E6-E9 had 2, and O1-O10 had 2.

    Want some more numbers? The suicide rate in the Marine Corps is 24 for every 100,000. In the civilian sector its 20 per 100,00. So realize that suicide is not just a military problem. And the fact that those numbers are so close, even considering the increased amount of stress and hardships that service members deal with vice civilians, shows that we have been working on the issue and its produced results.

    Every case, every person is different and deal with things diffrently. You cant make blanket statements saying "x,y, and z are the causes of suicides."

    November 18, 2010 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. Survivor

    As some one who love his loved one to suicide, it rips my heart apart to see so many of our young people being lost this way. whether it is our hero service men and women, or our young gay teens. As hard as the emotions are, please hang in there, there is help, and things get better with time and help. I wish no ones's life were cut short, and no relatives and loved ones would have to endure what those of us who stay behind have to go through. It is total hell. Please hand in there, it gets better. If you feel overhelmed, because you're only a normal human being and things get rough, talk about it, seek counseling and help as you would for any other physical problem. You're much more important to others happiness and well being than you realize. Hang in there !!!

    November 18, 2010 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. Survivor

    Test

    November 18, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. Travis

    Soldiers kill themselves as much as the rest of us. just because their soldiers doesnt make me feel any different towards their actions. It was stupid of them to do and if you say its a war, then they shouldnt have gone. thats there job. jobs and lack-there-of are one of the leading causes of suicide so why should I care? we shouldnt be policing the world in the first place and should pull our soldiers off the feild. we dont have a required military service law so i have no sympity for them. friendly fire is a different stoy, thats bs, but this is just another reason we should not invade other countries.

    also, yea she is kinda hot, wish they would have gotten some better shots

    November 18, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Kai

    I've sat here and read every single post, and all i can think about is how naive, rude, and just plain old heartless some of you people actually are. Both of my parents are veterans, and I myself have dreamt of serving in the Navy my whole life. Now I'm not going to claim to be extremely patriotic because I disagree with parts of our government as is, but I have nothing but repect, honor, and loyalty for the US Military. These people not only put their lives on the line for their country and their families, but also for my family and your family! And yet they don't know us from a can of paint. If you ask me that takes extreme courage. As for the suicide rates, regardless if you're in the service or not the rate of deaths are too high period. It's ashame that even in this country, life can be so awful to point where you feel as though you need to end your own life before your time. I sincerely hope and pray that something changes soon. FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART, THANK YOU TO ALL OF THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE AIRMEN, MARINES, SOLDIERS, AND SAILORS FOR YOUR SERVICE! YOU'RE ALL HEROES!

    November 18, 2010 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
  6. Derek

    "He discovered there were more than twice the number of suicides in the military (304) than there were during the Iraq War in 2009."

    That sentence makes no sense at all. Shouldn't it read: "He discovered there were more than twice the number of suicides in the military (304) than there were [deaths] during the Iraq War in 2009"?

    November 18, 2010 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Soldier

    Alright, let's set the story straight:

    149-150 KIA in Iraq in 2009 across all four branches of the Military. Let's also consider that there are approximately 50,000 troops in Iraq. So 150/50,000=.003% fatality rate

    304 suicides between all four branches of the Military COMBINED around the world, so somewhere in the 1.5 million range of people. So 304/1,500,000= .00002026% suicide rate

    What exactly is the artist's argument? It figures that people would blow this WAY out of proportion.

    November 18, 2010 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Well, you just went and skewed the statistics the other way. The true measure would be suicide rate of soldiers serving in Iraq vs. soliders KIA in Iraq.

      November 18, 2010 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  8. J MaN

    LoL I don't ever feel bad about someone offing themselves and heres why... First and foremost they are ADULTS making an ADULT decision with THEIR life. For me to cry that they killed themselves is disrespecting the choice they made, be it out of desperation or whatever it was, their life isn't mine to dictate in any way shape or form. Secondly I don't respect people who cannot show respect for themselves. Personally, killing yourself is the number one no-no in my book. Third, I have been deployed and I have been in this army for 6 years and I am ETS-ing. I have been diagnosed with depression and ptsd but you know what the armies way of fixing everything always is? Pills, pills, pills and more pills. I always declined any form of medication as I see it as a way of masking things instead of fixing them. I had to sit down and really decide what it was that made my life crappy to the point that I was depressed and I pinpointed that it was the army and its lack of respect for individuals.

    I always say that you should never give a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I have told that to a couple of people who had confided in me that they were thinking about hurting themselves and after brief discussions they made the right choice for themselves. I never tell someone flat out "don't kill yourself" becuase that is not my choice to make and I don't own that person so I can't tell them what to do. It's a shame that these people killed themselves because who knows what potential they took with them but I don't feel bad for it. I could go on and on about things regarding suicide since I've had my fair share of experiences through friends considering it but what for? It's all the same, we all die in the end :-)

    November 18, 2010 at 3:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. Natalie

    Here is the deal, everyone. The point of this ARTICLE is to show the good intentions of this artist. I do not think that tearing it apart with the random lady in the photo or pointing out fault in grammar is really relevant here.

    Because no matter what your stance is on the situation in Afghanistan/Iraq, people are still dying. No matter what. And THATS what we ought to focus on.

    November 18, 2010 at 3:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. Wake Up Snap Out Of It

    He obviously didn't have enough room for how may lives are possibly being saved...daily! I served with pride...cry me a river while you play the worlds smallest violin.

    November 18, 2010 at 4:31 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bobington

    Meh....If you aren't strong enough to survive you kill yourself, problem solved.

    November 18, 2010 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. FRIEND

    National Suicide Helpline
    800-273-8255
    800-273-TALK

    November 18, 2010 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bobington

    Also, its been done before...nothing new.

    November 18, 2010 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. julie

    why does every one want to push suicide under the rug do you what it feels like to hear a friend put a gun to her head and ended her life. do you know that 30,000 people commit suicide every year. if you have someone in your family commit suicide you are at risk of committing suicide. true facts that i researched on the net. someone has to speak out if i can saveone life by telling you to get help then i have done my job. I miss Terri every day and the pain never ends. Her son went into work and hung himself. please if you feel sad get help your not alone.

    November 18, 2010 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. sgt so and so

    It's easy to stand on the outside and judge. but the fact is that if you haven't been in their shoes you don't know what you're talking about. Deployments are horrible for those deployed and are just as difficult for those left behind. no, they didn't have to see the horrible things but they had to do twice the workload and at the end the folks who deployed are given tons of benefits and a couple weeks off, meanwhile those who have been working extra get shafted, that takes a toll. When anyone deployed or not needs mental help beyond the cursory questionaire it takes a toll on the whole unit, and believe me the person knows that so many will choose to do without help, so as to get the mission completed.
    The services all give lipservice to their support, but when it comes down to it they treat any non-combat related mental condition ( and even some combat related ones) as an inconvienence to the unit. Mine was PPD and PTSD for a non combat reason. And there was no unit support.

    November 18, 2010 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
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