Since leaving school, most of us will have never worn a uniform, let alone as a member of the armed services or the police force, so it is very difficult or impossible to fully appreciate the experience of working in a military zone on active duty either as a combatant or as a peacekeeper and the issues faced when eventually returning home. Whether we agree with going to war or not, many young men and women enrole to serve their nation unquestionably, deserving our support in any way we can offer.
In 2011 Australian artist Ben Quilty travelled to Afghanistan attached to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as part of the Australian War Memorial’s program of commissioning war artists, which was initiated during the First World War. Ben travelled to Kabul, Kandahar and Tarin Kot to undertake the commission of recording and interpreting the experiences of Australian service personnel.
An exhibition of his work entitled “After Afghanistan” is touring Australia (tour information) and includes sketches the artist made during his tour and over twenty studio paintings made after his return. The paintings include depictions of the machinery of war, while the majority focus on portraits of service men and women. These images convey a strong emotional and psychological power, capturing the impact the war has on those at the frontline. The exhibition in many ways tells the story of the “aftermath” of war from the artist’s perspective and from the close relationship he formed with his subjects.
Please watch this compelling video of an interview with Ben Quilty to better understand what he is conveying through his work.