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Leslie Elsasser - Introduction
Christian Cortes

Crimi Arrieta - Relative of US Army Veteran
Patricia Colbert - US Army
Gail Cross - US Air Force
Dr. Charlie Ferrer - US Army
Janine Hargrett - US Army
Valerie Larson - US Air Force
Kevin Lipton - US Army
Dolores Matteo - US Army
Karidad Ramis-Hartman - US Army
Roger St. Julian - US Army
Monika Sutton - Spouse of US Army Veteran
Viana L.M. Tavares-Fischer - US Army

Manfredo Bobadilla - US Army
Agustin Collazo Jr. - US Marine Corps / US Navy
Amanda Dodd - US Army
Evan Fountain - US Air Force
Derek Hopkins - US Air Force
Mikko Maki - US Marine Corps
Alicia Morales - US Army
Chris Smith - Spouse of US Army Veteran
Kimberlee Nicole Smith - US Army
RaeAnne Swanson - US Air Force


Mikko Maki, Commune, 2023.

Mikko Maki, Commune, 2023.

MIKKO MAKI - US Marine Corps

Written as told to Bethany Bauman Maki

Commune (verb; kuh-myoon): to converse or talk together, usually with profound intensity, intimacy, etc.; to interchange thoughts or feelings. Commune (noun; kom-yoon): a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities. 

This is my commune. These are the two most important people I talk with, share with and live life with. This is my love and the mother she gave me. Her momily. I’ve never been adopted by a mother that I felt love from before. The room this photograph was taken in—our “Florida room”—is one we built. It didn’t exist before we moved Mom in—just like this family didn’t exist in this form. Family dinner is an everyday anchor for the three of us—it’s not a structure I ever had, and it’s been transformative. The after-dinner conversations like the one in this picture make me feel part of a family. 

The simple act of having dinner together gives me the structure I crave—it’s a structure for my broken brain that loves predictable routine and it’s a structure for love. This is the life I wanted to see from my window. My peace. My family. My communemates.  



Mikko Maki, Love, 2023.

Mikko Maki, Love, 2023.

Mikko Maki, Reflection, 2023.

Mikko Maki, Reflection, 2023.


For more information:
Email Leslie Elsasser at

Breaking Barriers is a program by USF Contemporary Art Museum in collaboration with the USF School of Art & Art History, is supported by the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, USF Office of Veterans Success, Community Arts Impact Grant of the Hillsborough Arts Council, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, Love IV Lawrence, USFCAM ACE (Art for Community Engagement) Fund Patrons, and the Florida Department of State, Florida Arts & Culture.