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Multimedia exhibit explores effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military cleared vegetation with an herbicide known as Agent Orange. Scientists have linked the chemical compound to cancer and other health problems. KPCC's Steven Cuevas visited a multimedia exhibit at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography that explores the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam's environment and people.

Steven Cuevas: The photographs include one of a Vietnamese boy standing in a stark forest clearing created by Agent Orange. Others depict an American girl named Jennifer as a toddler, and as a teenager. She was born without a left arm. Her father was exposed to Agent Orange during the war.

David Biggs: Here we see these two boys who are conjoined twins, but they're being held by a nurse looking out the window – it's very caring, hopeful in a sense.
Christina Schwenkel: And it is. So what you're gonna see here in these images is moving between during the war, and then post-war.

Cuevas: UCR professors Christina Schwenkel and David Biggs organized the exhibit "Agent Orange: Landscape, Body, Image." Many people involved in the Vietnam War blame the chemical compound for birth defects, cancers, and other illnesses.

Almost 20 years ago U.S. chemical manufacturers settled a number of lawsuits brought by American war veterans. But one artist said a veil of "smiles and suffering" often cloaks the effect of Agent Orange on people in Vietnam. Exhibit organizer Christina Schwenkel:

Christina Schwenkel: But it's not just a tragedy for Vietnam and the United States. It's a tragedy for Laos, Cambodia, for South Korean veterans and other people involved. So yeah, trying to get it out of the focus on the U.S. to find out how people in Vietnam and elsewhere give meaning to Agent Orange, how it affects their lives, etcetera.

Cuevas: The Agent Orange exhibit is on view at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography through August.

Note: A free conference featuring some of the artists starts Thursday night.