Kumiko S. McKee - In This Life Images - Living in the Dead Zone

Gallery > In This Life > Living in the Dead Zone

Living in the Dead Zone
Oil painting with newspaper collage on masonite
60 x 40 inches
2004 - 2006


Art Statement of “Living Dead Zone”
September 2006

I came across the photograph (image A) in the New York Times Newspaper on January 19, 2005 while I was collecting news articles for my painting and it caught my attention immediately. The photograph was incredibly shocking and heartbreaking—a girl bursting into tears, bloodstains were everywhere, her face, dress, and her hands were soaked red with blood. As I read the article, I learned that her parents were killed right in front of her and both her hands were wet with the blood of her parents…I felt deep sympathy for her. Photographer Chris Hondros who took the photo, witnessed the entire scene while he photographed each moment of the tragic event.

According to the story from his interview with CNN, the U.S. soldiers shot the car at a checkpoint since the car didn’t stop when the soldiers signalled to the driver to stop and there was a heighten fear of suicide bombers. As the result, an Iraqi man and his wife, who where sitting in the front seat of the car, were killed instantly by the gunfire and was witnessed by their six children including the little girl in the photograph who were also in the car. The family was just driving on the way home at night and may not have seen the sign signalling them to stop. After understanding the situation, the U.S. soldiers rushed to help.

The lives of the six children were instantly turned upside down from that moment…their parents were killed right in front of them and they now have to live with this tragic memory as orphans. I can’t imagine the deepness of the scar in their hearts from witnessing how their parents were killed.

After seeing this photograph and knowing the story, I was motivated to paint this piece. It was heart breaking to paint such a scene and I don’t know how many times my hands stopped painting for a while to think about these people and the children in Iraq who are often caught in the middle of the conflict.

Kumiko S. McKee

Reference used for the painting:

Image A
Photo by Chris Hondros

Image B
The photo I took as a reference for my painting

Image C
Image of girl from my painting

Symbols and key elements in the painting:

Iraqi Flag
The Iraqi flag in my painting is the most recent one that has three stripes—red, white, and black, with three green stars and the Arabic words “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” in stylized Kufic script inside the white stripe.

From July 31, 1963 until January 13, 1991, the Iraqi flag had three stripes of red, white, and black, with three green stars inside the white stripe. Then during the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein decreed to have the words “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” added between the stars. It is said that the words on the flag were written in Saddam's own handwriting.

Since 2004, the flag has been replaced with a similar flag with the words “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” written in stylized Kufic script, instead of Saddam’s handwriting.

White Bird or Dove
You can see the shape of a white bird or dove coming towards the girl when you see the negative image of the shadow. The dove symbolizes “hope” or “peace” in some countries and the pigeon symbolizes “peace” in Japan.

Yin and Yang
You can see that the light and dark areas around the girl and the Arabic words create a shape similar to the “Yin and Yang” symbol. The girl or "humanity" is in the dark side and the Arabic word “Allah (god)” is in the light side.

Yin and Yang