eX de Medici: exploring camouflage through a Special Forces helmet
Wednesday 30 July 2014 by Tamsin Hong. No comments
Art, Artist in residence, Collection, Collection Highlights, Military Heraldry and Technology, Special Forces, Afghanistan, Soloman Islands, equipment, helmet
Currently on display are two watercolours by Canberra based artist eX de Medici depicting a helmet used by a member of the Australian Special Forces during his deployment to Afghanistan between 2008-2009. These works were two of three watercolours by eX de Medici purchased by the Australian War Memorial in 2011. They study a helmet from three different angles in three different colour schemes, exploring the use of camouflage in contemporary warfare.
eX de Medici incorporates weapons, helmets, skulls and bullets into her works to comment on social and political issues. Her particular interest in helmets stems from her earlier use of skulls. In an interview with the Australian War Memorial on 6 May 2010 eX de Medici explained: "The helmet sits at the same point as a skull. It is a skull. It is the exoskeleton of a skull. It's a mask. It's an instrument for other purpose that can cloak identity for instance, which was my first use of it, was the disguise of identity in aggressive situations." In 2009, the Australian War Memorial appointed eX de Medici as an official artist to respond to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. During her appointment, eX de Medici studied Australian troops deployed to the Solomon Islands taking particular note of their weaponry and equipment. After her return, eX de Medici studied the Special Forces helmet and created three watercolours now in the Memorial’s collection. The helmet was donated to the Australian War Memorial afterwards.
The Memorial was pleased to receive this sophisticated piece of equipment and learn about its history. Manufactured by South African company Global Armour, the helmet is made from high-tenacity ballistic aramid fibre and it can protect the wearer from most bullets. It is commonly referred to as a Cutaway Combat Helmet because the ears are not protected giving the helmet the appearance of having a part of it removed or ‘cutaway’. The benefit of this design is that it allows for easier movement for the wearer and assists the Active Hearing Protection to have greater functionality. Active Hearing Protection covers the ears to enable the wearer to hear harmless sounds, such as speaking, whilst reducing hazardous noise, such as from firearms.
The helmet has been fitted with a range of equipment to assist a member of the Special Forces. At the front of the helmet is a privately purchased Rhino mount made by Notoros. These mounts are standard issue to the US military so modifications were made in order for Australian Night Vision Goggles to fit. At the back of the helmet are weights designed to counterbalance the weight of the Night Vision Goggles. On the top of the helmet is a TAG-IR Trip Wire Kit which emits infrared at different tempos. Accompanying this is an infrared reflective Glint Tape. Both of these are placed at the top of the helmet for air support to see. The left side of the helmet has an Australian flag badge, whilst on the other side are two badges stitched with ‘S23’ and ‘OPOS NKA’. The former is a call-sign, while the latter, indicates the wearer had O positive blood type and No Known Allergies.
Underneath the helmet is a webbing harness to secure the helmet. Inside, there are a series of foam pads which can be adjusted to allow for greater ventilation in the summer months or a more snug fit to trap in heat in the winter months. This cutaway helmet shows the former arrangement which was more comfortable for the wearer and could better integrate with Active Hearing Protection.
The eX de Medici watercolours allow the viewer to see the helmet from three different perspectives. She is meticulous in capturing the helmet and its equipment, reflecting the value the Special Forces member placed in his gear. Each perspective shows the helmet with a different colour scheme which eX de Medici learnt about from conversations with the helmet’s previous owner and other recent and current serving members of the Australian Defence Force.
Australia, special forces (everywhere, current), Aust flag 2010 (shown at the top of this page) depicts the helmet in its current colour scheme. Toward the end of his deployment in Afghanistan, the wearer found a can of tan paint used to spray Australian Army vehicles and he re-painted his helmet. The previous paint scheme was wearing off, revealing the dark green colour of the helmet as it would have been when he originally acquired it. The colour was not appropriate to conceal him in the Afghan landscape and by painting his helmet tan, he was using the same colour employed to blend Australian army vehicles in the arid landscape.
eX de Medici shows the helmet from the other side in Australia, special forces (everywhere, current), veg pattern 2007, 2010. In this drawing she imagines the cutaway helmet with a leaf pattern. Before painting his helmet tan, the wearer had sprayed a fern leaf pattern onto his helmet using two different tones of brown paint. In this instance he used a leaf stencil to create the pattern. Members of the Australian Defence Force also create leaf camouflage by spraying over real leaves to create similar patterns on their equipment.
Leaf camouflage patterns compose a significant part of camouflage’s history. During the Second World War, experimentation with leaf camouflage accelerated. Germany’s Waffen SS were particularly well known for developing oak-leaf, palm tree and plane tree patterns. Leaf patterns are excellent at disguising large areas by breaking up blocks of colour with organic shapes. This type of pattern is effective in rural landscapes. For the Waffen SS, the oak-leaf pattern in particular had a patriotic element as Germans often referred to themselves as Walderungen or forest people. Other countries have used their own variation of the leaf pattern to camouflage troops and equipment. Over the course of the 20th Century, each country has developed their own camouflage which both conceals and distinguishes their armed forces from other nations.
eX de Medici’s third drawing of the cutaway helmet in the Memorial’s collection, Australia, special forces (everywhere, current), digicam 2010 is a study of the helmet upside down and painted in digital camouflage. Digital camouflage, or digicam, has been developed over the past few decades and is well known as the US Army’s current camouflage scheme. The method of using straight lines and grids of colour in camouflage has been experimented with since the latter half of the 20th Century, but its defining moment was as the Berlin Brigade’s Urban Paint Scheme. In 1982, British units based in Berlin developed the Berlin Brigade’s Urban Paint Scheme to disguise vehicles and tanks in an urban environment. Using grey, white, brown and black colours in square and rectangle formations, the colour scheme was effectively able to disguise large machinery across the cityscape. Similar schemes have been adapted including digital camouflage on Australian vehicles.
In 2009 eX de Medici observed the use of digital camouflage on Australian vehicles whilst on tour as an Australian Official War artist in the Solomon Islands. She took a series of photographs of Interim Mobility Vehicles painted in digital camouflage of green, brown and tan. The camouflage on the cutaway helmet reveals the same pattern. Although the wearer would not have had this type of camouflage on his helmet, eX de Medici’s drawing reveals the latest era of the evolution of Australian camouflage.
Through these three watercolours, eX de Medici allows us to explore the use of colour and line that have helped disguise and conceal Australian troops and equipment. Her careful observation of the helmet and its equipment captures the significance of this helmet to a Special Forces member. The helmet not only physically protected its wearer but it also concealed and revealed him when needed and assisted him to perform his duties. eX de Medici’s three watercolours are a lasting testament to importance of this cutaway helmet to its wearer.
Tamsin Hong, Assistant Curator, Military Heraldry and Technology