In the galleries: Forgotten Wars and Flowers

By Aaron Hughes with collaborator Amber Ginsburg


On Wednesday, October 26, an opening reception was held for the current exhibit in the Rita’s Fine Art Gallery. This collection of work is titled Forgotten Wars and Flowers by artist Aaron Hughes and his collaborator Amber Ginsburg.

Hughes is first an artist with an MFA from Northwestern University as well as many other suits, including an educator, an activist, and an Iraq war veteran. Amber Ginsburg is a ceramicist by trade along with also being an activist and lecturer at the University of Chicago.

Expressionistic paintings and drawings dominate the wall.


Hughes and Ginsburg pulled inspiration from separate settings and experiences but are connected with an underlying theme. Hughes returned from Iraq after being deployed in 2003, and he used his experiences as a deep inspiration for his art.

One of the first pieces Hughes displayed was a poem “A Bird on Barbed Wire”, which was written while Hughes waited for a convoy clearance on an Iraqi road. While waiting, he watched a bird fly around and land on a barbed wire fence.

Hughes realized that the bird had no idea what a barbed wire fence even was, and this idea spoke to him. He believed that society creates the meanings behind symbols and objects in our world and that sometimes these symbols are negative or destructive.

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Drawings line the entire wall in Rita’s Fine Arts Gallery.


These experiences from his deployment are Hughes’ inspiration and he created pieces depicting the feelings, images, and emotions that were felt while he was in Iraq.

One of the biggest contrasts that Hughes portrayed in his works was the idea of what he was expecting to do in Iraq compared to what actually went on while he was deployed.

Tea Project

This collection of work is centered around a main piece titled the Tea Project. The project is inspired from one of Hughes’ friends who was a guard at Guantanamo Bay Prison and was in contact with Hughes during and after.

The inmates incarcerated in Guantanamo were fed a meal on a Styrofoam plate with tea served in a Styrofoam cup. Chris, the guard, was to collect these cups from the inmates but when they were collected, they noticed these men were drawing flowers on the cups, carving the pictures into the cups with their fingernails.

These imprisoned men were part of the last sixty men stuck in Guantanamo Bay for “national security purposes” and were refused entry into their countries of origins. This story spoke to both Hughes and Ginsburg on a deep level.

The two artists were inspired to transform these disposable cups into something that will last forever, to share this story across the world.

Ginsburg’s background is in ceramics, clay, and other mediums like those two, along with undertaking large scale production projects of pieces, such as her Terracotta Bomb Project in Chicago.

Together, they worked to produce over 700 ceramic replications of the Styrofoam cups inspired by the cups carved by inmates of Guantanamo Bay. This huge production was undertaken and accomplished by Ginsburg, Hughes, and some help from friends.

Over 700 ceramic replications of styrofoam cups sit on display.

Sharing tea

With these cups, Hughes then travels around the world speaking about the “war on terror” with people from all different places. Hughes uses the cups to share tea with people who are participating in his discussions.

Hughes’ significance with sharing tea starts with his deployment, where a Kuwaiti soldier offered him tea and he refused. Later in Hughes’ career, he was speaking as a civilian against the war in Iraq and was offered tea again, to which he accepted.

Through this gesture of sharing tea and becoming what some say could be friends, Hughes uses this connection to speak out against a war that he actually was part of, and in some ways, takes responsibility for.

Some words that speak volumes to what these two artists are trying to accomplish comes from Hughes, stating, “I wanted to be part of something creative not destructive. Art is something creative not destructive.”

Tea Project presentation by Aaron Hughes and Amber Ginsburg.

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