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Map of fallen soldiers
Artist Emily Prince's map of the United States, made up of the portraits of the faces of thousands of fallen troops. (Emily Prince artwork)

As Iraq war reaches five-year mark, art student continues to memorialize fallen U.S. troops, one soldier at a time

— Two fast-approaching milestones in the Iraq war — the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and 4,000 U.S. military deaths —  have a very personal meaning for artist Emily Prince.

 Artist Emily Prince's rendition of Keisha Morgan, 25
Artist Emily Prince's rendition of Keisha Morgan, 25, an Army specialist from Washington, D.C. who died in Baghdad on Feb. 22, 2008. 

On March 20, 2003, the United States launched its initial attack against targets in Iraq; the following year, the UC Berkeley graduate student resolved to draw a portrait of each U.S. service person who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other locations related to the two war fronts.

At latest count, last week, she'd done 4,438 of these drawings (including more than 80 during January and February) — in what has become a regular practice that feels to her "somewhat akin to prayer."

"As it's always been in this project, I'm just continually trying to catch up," says Prince, now in the final semester of a master's degree program in Art Practice.

One face she rendered recently — that of Army Spc. Keisha M. Morgan — "really made an impression" on the artist. "She was 25 and from Washington, D.C. Her face was glowing," Prince recalls. "This was a woman who would strike you if you passed her on the street. Her eyes are etched into my memory." One of 74 servicewomen whom Prince has portrayed, Morgan died Feb. 22 in Baghdad of what the military called a "non-combat-related cause."

Prince assembles faces of fallen troops to form a map of the United States, for a work she has titled "American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)." Last year, as the NewsCenter reported, the piece was chosen for display at a major international exhibition, the 2007 Venice Biennale. In Venice, Prince was particularly moved by a crew of women janitors "who would always stop on their way by each night to look up close at the portraits." Prince believes that these workers, like others she observed studying her sobering map, "were able to look at these faces and relate to them as humans, not just Americans."

  Emily Prince
Emily Prince
 
The artwork will be included in a group show this summer on personal and collective memory, at the Wanas Foundation in Sweden, and later will travel to the Saatchi Gallery in London.

When Prince began her memorial project, in fall 2004, "I really never projected how long I might be making these drawings for, or how many I would make," she recalls. "I just knew that I wanted to commit to it for the length of the engagement."

"The situation is complex far beyond my capacity to predict its future," Prince adds. "Sadly, I won't be surprised if I'm still drawing them in ten years."