In keeping with this issue’s theme of transitions, my painting, “Empire Twilight: The End of the Day,” is part of an ongoing painting series using my officially declassified diplomatic reporting cables. These “cables"—State Department parlance for official diplomatic correspondence—covered historic transitions such as the end of the Soviet Union and the birth of fifteen new countries.
When I got these cables declassified through the Freedom of Information Act many years ago, I spent a long time thinking about how to share these eyewitness accounts of some of the most significant global transitions of the twentieth century. I was certain no one wanted to read another memoir of that period, so I was inspired to create a memoir in art. After the fall of the USSR, I participated in major events: from the 1994 ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan to denuclearization in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. I used memorabilia from that time to add other elements to my works in the series.
On the surface, this painting appears to be a landscape. On closer inspection, however, the backdrop is text from declassified cables capturing my observations and interviews with government officials, dissidents, youth, religious leaders, and opposition figures. Today, America and the world face another era of transition. Though my painting is subtitled "The End of the Day," it seems fitting for an issue born at the beginning of a new one.