Wartime issue 53 feature article: Nightscapes and jungle vision
Two very different artists picture the world of modern peacekeepers. By Laura Webster and Diana Warnes
The Memorial's exhibition, Perspectives: Jon Cattapan and eX de Medici, presents the unique insights of two official artists interpreting Australian involvement in peacekeeping operations.
Initially, Melbourne artist Jon Cattapan was not interested in being a war artist. He was hesitant to take on a commission that would take him to conflict zones in which the conflict clashed with his ideological perspectives. Yet the opportunity to observe peacekeeping activities in Timor–Leste had appeal. As a student in the 1970s, Cattapan had been deeply affected by the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the "Balibo Five", Australian newsmen who died at the hands of the invaders. This interest in Timor–Leste prompted him to accept the commission, and he was deployed in July 2008.
In response to his experiences, he created a large body of work including pen, ink and watercolour sketches. Later in his studio, he generated a series of monoprint drawings he calls the Carbon group. These show anonymous soldiers engaged in daily routine and interactions with the Timorese. Several paintings arose from his experience of viewing the landscape and soldiers through night-vision goggles. While highly subjective, his works are alluring evocations of peacekeepers within the Timor–Leste landscape.
Canberra artist and tattooist eX de Medici has been visiting the Australian War Memorial since she was a child. Her interest in the military and debates surrounding war has continued throughout her life. Unlike Cattapan, she needed no persuading to accept a commission, as an official artist to the Solomon Islands. She was deployed there in March 2009, during the wettest weeks of the year. The relentless rain meant there was no chance of completing paintings or sketches out of doors. Instead, she took hundreds of photographs across the province of Guadalcanal. Back in her studio, de Medici worked from photographs displayed on a computer screen, although drawing from photographs is not her preferred style. The resulting watercolours and brush, pen and ink drawings are often a "crush" of several photographs – a technique that merges numerous sites and events into a unified image.
A mixture of portraits and large-scale landscapes, the works are designed to tell stories of the past and present: the effects of colonisation; the wreckage left over from the Second World War; foreign investment in the islands' natural resources; and the current presence of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (Ramsi). De Medici has created a series of delicately rendered watercolours and drawings that powerfully explore the complexity of peacekeeping in the Solomon Islands.
Perspectives: Jon Cattapan and eX de Medici is at the Australian War Memorial until 2 March 2011. It will then tour nationally for two years.
Laura Webster and Diana Warnes work in the Art section of the Australian War Memorial; they co-curated Perspectives.
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