Published: Wed 20 Feb 2013

Today, at the National Art School Gallery in Sydney, the Australian War Memorial launched a new exhibition, Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan, featuring works from official war artist and Archibald Prize-winner Ben Quilty.

“Ben Quilty’s works follow a truly great tradition at the Australian War Memorial of appointing artists to record and interpret the Australian experience of war. Ben’s commission was to create paintings that would describe the impact of Afghanistan on our servicemen and women,” said Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson.

“Ben brought to this task all his brilliance, sensitivity and compassion. The works he produced will leave Australians a legacy which informs them not only about the impact of war on our country, but even more importantly, about the effects on the men and women he has depicted,” said Dr Nelson.

Quilty says he was profoundly affected by his tour of Afghanistan. After spending more than three weeks talking to, and hearing the experiences of, servicemen and women in Afghanistan, he felt an overwhelming need to tell their stories.

“Afghanistan is a very traumatic place. It exposes the basics of humanity right there in your face: matters of life and death, the biggest themes an artist could ever imagine. 

“I hope that when people walk into this exhibition they will get more of a sense of what is like to be in Afghanistan. Not what it looks like, but what it feels like. What it is like to survive an experience such as these Australians have been through.” 

The exhibition presents portraits of soldiers that Quilty met during his tour, including Air Commodore John Oddie, former Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 633 in the Middle East Area of Operations.

“Ben exposes the unvarnished, visceral experiences of military service and confronts the subject with previously deniable truths – a critical step to reintegrating with family and society,” said Oddie. “By depicting through his art the raw emotion of military service, Ben is rekindling social understanding between the family, the warrior and a society that needs and wants to embrace the reality of military service.”

Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan will showcase 21 studio paintings, along with 16 works on paper sketched by the artist during his tour of Afghanistan in 2011.

Quilty was attached to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) from 11 October until 3 November 2011. During this time he observed the Australians’ activities in Kabul, Kandahar and Tarin Kot. His task was to record and interpret the experiences of Australian servicemen and women who are deployed as part of Operation Slipper.

Quilty’s works continue a distinguished tradition of appointing official war artists, a practice established during the First World War. The Australian War Memorial’s official war art schemeis the longest running and largest commissioning art program in Australia.  The scheme makes a rich contribution to Australian art, while playing a significant role in Australia’s interpretation of its wartime history. 

Will Dyson became the first official war artist in 1917, and he was followed by George Lambert and Arthur Streeton. Since then, official war artists have included Ivor Hele, William Dargie, Stella Bowen, and – more recently – Jon Cattapan, eX de Medici, Shaun Gladwell, and Lyndell Brown and Charles Green.

Ben Quilty is a renowned Australian artist and the winner of the 2011 Archibald Prize. He has been recognised with numerous other awards, scholarships, and residencies in Australia and overseas. In November 2012 he was appointed a trustee to the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust.

Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan will be on display at the National Art School Gallery in Darlinghurst, Sydney, from 21 February to 13 April 2013; it will then tour Australia.

The National Art School Gallery is located on the National Art School Campus

Forbes Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Opening hours are 10 am – 4 pm (Monday – Saturday).

Tour dates available here:

To request an interview with Ben Quilty or the exhibition curator, email



Tom Vasey     0409 600 038

Diane Morris   0415 228 603


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