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From Conflict to Creativity: The Journeys of Alicia Christy and Miguel Chavez

The following is a guest blog post co-authored by veteran artists Alicia Christy, MD and Miguel Chavez. This is the third in a four-part guest series featuring military veteran artists who are members of Uniting US, a veteran-focused nonprofit arts organization. In recognition of June as Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) Awareness month, Uniting US is collaborating with the Veterans History Project (VHP) for “From Conflict to Creativity: Veteran Artists Showcase,” June 28-30, 2022 at the Library of Congress and online. Watch it here.

 Click on the following links to read previous articles in the From Conflict to Creativity series:

  • Part 1: The Journeys of AnnMarie Halterman and Ehren Tool
  • Part 2: The Journeys of Matthew Gill and Teresa K. Howes

Alicia Christy, MD

headshot of woman smiling

Profile picture of Alicia Christy, MD. Image courtesy of Uniting US.

My Journey from conflict to creativity began in Pennsylvania. I joined the Army Reserves as a second lieutenant in a military Scholarship Program. As the daughter of a widowed school teacher, I saw the military as a way to pay for medical school.

Early in my military career, I worked 100-hour work weeks, and I didn’t have the time or energy to pursue my art. When I experienced great personal loss, a failed marriage, art began to play a large role in my life. My brightly colored Caribbean artwork was the first thing I moved into my new home. The hours I spent working on those images brought me great peace, something I am very grateful to have in my life.

A painting of a woman service member in a camouflage uniform holding a baby.

“Faces of the Fallen-Honoring Women Who Have Served SGT Nicole Gee” by Alicia Christy. Image courtesy of Uniting US.

As an Army doctor, I had the privilege of caring for active-duty women and women veterans for more than 30 years. I recently had the opportunity to share my story as part of the Veterans History Project. I use my artwork to honor those women. My series of portraits, “Faces of the Fallen: Women Proudly Served,” is a tribute to women who lost their lives in service to our country. I was able to connect with SGT Nicole Gee’s family, and I recently finished another portrait of SGT Gee that I will share with the family.

A painting of an African-American service woman in uniform

“Faces of the Fallen-Honoring Women Who Have Served: LTC Karen Wagner” by Alicia Christy. Image courtesy of Uniting US.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published the portraits and stories of these extraordinary women during Women’s History Month. I have also had an opportunity to incorporate my artwork in medical presentations at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Medical Association and a webinar for the American Society for Reproductive Health. Through my work as Deputy Director of Reproductive Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Women’s Health, I am able to help educate physicians about the unique health needs of women veterans. In 2020, I was honored to receive a Humanism in Medicine Award for my work with active-duty women and women veterans.

woman in Army uniform posing in celebration

Alicia Christy, MD celebrating at her military retirement ceremony. Image courtesy of Uniting US.

During my journey, I had the extremely good fortune to meet AnnMarie Halterman, CEO of Uniting US, at a Healing Arts Exhibit. It has been an incredible collaboration, and I greatly respect her extraordinary support and advocacy for veteran artists. It is my honor to share the contributions and sacrifice of all of these women who served as part of my journey from conflict to creativity.

Miguel Chavez

Man in Marine Corps uniform being hugged by an elderly woman

Miguel Chavez in uniform with fellow Uniting US artist and WWII veteran Celine Dye. Image courtesy of Uniting US.

My Journey from conflict to creativity began in 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. I was thumbing through social media and saw artwork from a Marine that was in my infantry platoon. I contacted Adel Abudayeh, I call him “Abu,” and asked him about his artwork.  I did not realize he had this ability to make art, and I wanted to know more about his process.  I asked him, “How do you paint?” His response was very typical of a GRUNT, “I cannot teach you, and do not know if you are going to like it. Get some cheap primary color paint such as red, blue, yellow, and some black and white along with some cheap brushes with a small canvas.”

After shopping at the local art store, I came back with exactly the materials I was instructed to buy. I did not have a clue on how to start the process. It felt like I was sword fighting with the small 9 x 12 canvas. There was paint everywhere, all over my hands, clothes and near the vicinity of me and the canvas. I felt like the canvas was winning. My sword strokes were not creating an image that was recognizable, regardless of what brush I selected. Towards the end of the late night into the early morning, my duel with the canvas ended. The brush fell out of my hands as if the canvas had great defense. With great frustration I reached for the nearest thing to me and scraped a small part of the canvas as if to say, “It is not over.”

After some sleep, I walked into the area I was painting the night before to review the aftermath. Paint was everywhere, and my garage was unrecognizable. The canvas stood proud still claiming its victory. Although there was not an image that one could recognize, I saw many! Throughout the marks on the painting, I saw images that the paint had made. I was proud of what was created and took a picture and sent it to Abu.

colorful painting of a distorted face

A painting on display from Miguel Chavez’s “Ugly” series. Image Courtesy of Uniting US.

Abu texted me back a few hours later and said, ‘What the f*ck is that? It is hideous!’

I chuckled and decided to call him and show him via FaceTime. He continued to say how terrible it was, but I laughed right along with him. What I enjoyed the most was the focus and process to create the painting.

Abu is a prolific artist, and is constantly creating artwork. I bought more canvases, but slightly bigger. I called him via FaceTime as he was creating, and I joined him. We created art together in this way for two and a half years. Literally every day. We would wake up around 0800 and go straight into our art studios with a coffee in hand painting into the early morning (0300). We would feed off each other’s ideas and concepts. We would steal each other’s form of painting.

a painting of a bull

Miguel Chavez’s painting, “Warrior Actual.” Image courtesy of Miguel Chavez.

Abu and I traveled to New York under the umbrella of HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS for an art show to display our artwork. It was the first time that I saw him in person since 2003. One of my paintings that was on display depicted a bull named, “Warrior Actual.” My parent command was Lima Company 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and our logo is a bull. I used it as a bat signal for a 15-year reunion in Colorado funded by the SEMPER FI FUND. All the Marines present signed the back of the wooden canvas. After the trip to Colorado, I donated “Warrior Actual” to HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS as a thank you for their support. “Warrior Actual” raised over $2,300.00 to support other veterans like myself.

a row of colorful paintings of distorted faces

A display of Miguel Chavez’s “Ugly” series. Image Courtesy of Uniting US.

Adel Abudayeh and I still, to this day, collaborate and bounce ideas off each other. Adel is currently working on a mural in St. Louis, Missouri. Reflecting on my life, military service and art, I’m so glad to have crossed paths with him during my journey from conflict to creativity.

VHP and Uniting US invite you to use the arts to find inspiration. Consider writing a book or a song, taking a painting class or going dancing! Subscribe to Folklife Today to read future posts in this guest series, as well as other enlightening articles about folklife and veterans. Learn more about Uniting US, or sign-up as a veteran-artist or family member at unitingus.org. Access the daily schedule and free registration details for “From Conflict to Creativity: Veteran Artists Showcase” at loc.gov/vets/news/. Go here to find out how to share a veteran’s story with VHP.

From Conflict to Creativity: The Journeys of Matthew Gill and Teresa K. Howes

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