By LaVendrick Smith
For Judith Larsen, art is special when it has a meaning and a purpose behind it.
“I think I’m wasting my time as an artist if I’m just going to do landscapes or something,” the local Seattle painter said.
In her new art exhibit on display at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, Larsen goes beyond landscapes and honors women journalists who work abroad.
Her exhibit, “Frontline Heroines,” explores the plight of women journalists and civil rights workers who have lost their lives abroad reporting and helping on international issues. The exhibit, located in the school of social work’s first floor gallery, is a collection of painted portraits of women who have been killed while doing their jobs abroad.
“They’re what I call soldiers without guns,” Larsen said of the women featured in the exhibit. “They’re extraordinarily heroic people that we owe our freedoms to.”
The exhibit focuses on women such as Dickie Chappelle, the first female war correspondent to be killed, and Anna Politkovskaya, a former editor and author who was assassinated in Russia in 2006.
The exhibit opened in August and runs through December 12.
Larsen, a journalist herself, has won several Associated Press awards for her work as a television broadcast and radio reporter. She has had a love for art all her life, though she took a hiatus from painting. This project—which she began nearly four years ago—offered her a way to get back into painting, she said.
She got the idea for the paintings years ago, when she noticed a trend of reporters being murdered for their coverage of international news and issues.
“I don’t remember so many journalists being targeted before, and I’ve always been a follower of news,” she said. “Then I became increasingly alarmed that, all of a sudden, they’re females.”
She said when journalists go abroad now to cover international news, their chances of survival has decreased over the years.
In the months since the exhibit’s launch in August to the reception on October 2, an additional three more journalists have lost their lives, including James Foley, the American journalist who was beheaded by ISIS in August.
“It’s a really deep exhibit for me,” said Mia Vogel, co-chair of the art committee for the university’s school of social work. “I feel like social workers and journalists are kind of similar. They’re both groups who have been called to seek the truth, and to spread the truth to raise the consciousness of society.”
Vogel said journalists are at threat because of their pursuit of the truth, but that the issue is something she recently became aware of.
“Systems or organizations, that are perpetuating oppression, target them,” she said. “We see it all over the place when people are speaking out for the truth. We see it in organizations like whistleblowers, and it’s really widespread.”
Larsen recognizes that, for many journalists, there’s a line when seeking the truth that many of them can’t cross.
“That border for journalists, although it’s always been a problem in some places like China and Pakistan, and anything about drugs in Latin America, other than that, this is new,” she said.
Nevertheless, she sees the murdering of journalists, men and women, as a topic that needs more attention.
“Remember these people—they’re heroes,” she said. “Your democratic freedoms are protected by people like this, and if you don’t pay attention to what they read and what they wrote, and what they say, then shame on you. They’re heroes.”