oil on canvas
137 x 183 cm
On recent deployment to Taji Military Complex, Iraq, I visited a Saddam-era “tank graveyard”, a sprawling expanse of lumbering military junk whose forms sprout from salted earth like a field of oversized, rusting metallic mushrooms. It is a scene of utter desolation, a malign calculus of environmental tragedy weighted by symbolism of an army (once the world’s fourth largest) beset by repeated war and the ghosts of a generation of young Iraqi men sacrificed at the altar of dictatorial megalomania. Adorning these rotting forms is a mix of Arabic and English-language graffiti from local and (mostly US) military visitors. I saw in these messages a gesture of reclaimed humanity and an affirmation of life scrawled on impromptu billboards, statements of optimism lent gravitas by their absurd, unsettling location. Featuring in this painting is a dedication to a loved one a world away in a Western nation; a love that followed its author to Earth’s end, asserted in defiance of a here and now wrought in body armour and muddy boots, steel rain and bunkers, disconnection across time zones, intense camaraderie and a suite of future memories utterly incongruent with the lives of the folks back home.