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Martha Colburn Brings the War Home

May 18, 2012

How does an artist respond to a country at war? In this film, artist Martha Colburn discusses four of her animated films that examine American identity in the wake of 9/11 by “bringing the war into the living room,” locating the violence of contemporary events in themes and imagery drawn from childhood and American history. Colburn witnessed America’s escalating response to Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S.—the War on Terror, the War in Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq—while working in Amsterdam, deciding to move to New York City in 2005 in order to make films that investigate the violent roots of her home country.

Investing her work with political subject matter and a renewed sense of urgency, Colburn traces American imperialism overseas to notions of the Wild West in Destiny Manifesto (2006); unearths the allegorical power of storybook villains in Meet Me in Wichita (2006); portrays the psychological torment of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress in Triumph of the Wild (2008); and pits toys of America’s television characters against its enemies in Dolls vs. Dictators (2010). In each film, Colburn locates the violence of contemporary events in themes and imagery drawn from childhood and American history. Developed over several years of research, Colburn’s films repurpose photographic source material—such as images of Kim Jong-il, Muammar Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden, as well as American soldiers and civilians—that she then adapts through painting, collage, and hand-made animations created over the course of a year through sequential in-camera edits.

More information and credits


Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Brad Kimbrough & Wesley Miller. Cinematography: John Marton & Andrew David Watson. Key Grip: John Marton. Sound: Nicholas Lindner. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Paulina V. Ahlstrom, Don Edler, Amanda Long & Maren Miller. Design & Graphics: Crux Studio & Open. Artwork: Martha Colburn. Music: Haleh Abghari, Michael Evans, Jad Fair, Thollem McDonas, Greg Saunier, Nathan Whipple Records & V. Vale. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Martha Colburn

Martha Colburn was born in 1971 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, formerly lived and worked in New York, and currently lives between Amsterdam and Lisbon. Colburn works for years on a single project, and her films result from intensive research and meticulously rendered stop-motion animations that include photography, collage, and painting. The artist’s vibrant imagery can belie the seriousness of the themes she addresses, which include America’s history of war and violence, and crystal-meth addiction in rural areas.

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