Every once in a while you see something you think you know and then you look again and you realize there is more there if you let your eyes rest a little longer. Put yourself in a museum and your eyes start to play tricks on you. “Abstract markings of black and blue and gray and green fill a canvas and they’re calling it ‘Door’? Oh I can see that,” you say to yourself after trying a little harder as you walk by.

But if the art exhibit happens to be in the Parker Gallery at the Oceanside Museum of Art where artist Geoffrey Cunningham has created a homage titled, “Penumbra: An Ode to Oceanside in a Time of War,” and you are lucky enough to visit for a few minutes in the small space that contains three large cream-colored framed images, you will feel an intimacy of individual human presence and a greater collective effort that grows by the minutes you stay there. Lined up on these creamy sheets are carefully placed rectangular images of pants pockets that represent the men and women stationed at Camp Pendleton who have lost their lives in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That might be easy enough to see in your imagination but it’s nothing like seeing the very real markings of each rectangle that rested on someone and held their belongings — kept keys safe and coins, photographs and other important items near where they needed them. Each pocket takes on a shape of its own and is as unique as the person who wore the uniform, someone we might have bumped into at Target, sat by at the movies, waited at a stop light with on the road in Oceanside or another community close by. The hundreds of pockets add up to a greater loss than any other Navy, Army or Marine base experienced during the current wars.

If you sit there long enough, looking upward at the pockets row after row, the weight of each rectangle is grounded yet somehow ascending and no explanation can do justice to the moment this art opens your mind and tells you — that these souls served our country, they were here and now they are gone.

The arts open our hearts and minds through our eyes. Like other commentaries and stories recently shared, this is a plea to support the visual and performing arts in our community and schools. With recent budget cuts, parents are getting creative with fundraising events. La Costa Canyon High School presented “ArTurn!,” a crafts fair on campus May 5, featuring alumni artists, teachers and students with live stage performances, demonstrations and art booths. The Oceanside Museum of Art donated passes to raffle and so did the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas. Giving kids a chance to explore and create art in school provides an opportunity to express, receive and grow in our understanding of the world. Let’s try harder to support the arts and all that it does for us.

Mary Oren lives in Carlsbad.

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Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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