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Representing the Other

Since editioning my first photo etches of the Australian War Memorial and redacted Brereton Report, I have pushed my photo etching techniques to a whole other level. I have found that embracing the 'failings' of my initial plate has created an opportunity to work with an element of abstraction which I otherwise would have found hard to organically create. The stubbornness of the image to evolve has been similar to the reticence of the truth to be exposed about Afghan war crimes, and I find the symbology an interesting area to explore.

I have read a number of articles which have helped inform my views on the topic.

Academic Caroline Graham's article published in Meanjin Winter 2021 titled 'Of Warriors, Bad Apples and Blood Lust' is a sobering insight into the generational trauma and subsequent cruelty and racism which have become hallmarks of Australia's military history. It is a long but very worthy read:

Andrew Quilty's article in the April 2021 Monthly, 'The Worst Form of Defence - New revelations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan' talks to the growing number of Afghans who are seeking justice for their innocently lost loved ones now that the news of the Brereton Report is reaching remote parts of Afghanistan. The article resonated as truth telling through my experiences of being deployed to Afghanistan. I had little to no involvement with the Special Forces elements who have been accused of the war crimes. As an Army veteran I feel angry that during the time I, and most others, worked hard in what we thought was moral and helpful work, our efforts were being undermined by a seemingly arrogant and untethered 'elite' element.

Quilty's article gave me more insight about differing treatments of those who survive war's tragedies. I am trying not to overstep my area of expertise and speak for anyone but myself and my own experiences and feelings. I am a war widow through suicide, but as an ex-service woman and an Australian, I have been mostly very well cared for by institutions. The Afghan families affected by war crimes have not been supported in the same way, and have been justifiably wary of the government and foreign agencies that might have offered some help.

Dr Richard Harding's 2013 essay links the notion of 'print as other' and identity politics. He uses a mostly queer discourse lens, but I feel the exploration of identifying our positions within 'particular demographics, arenas or communities' is helpful in considering the Afghan experience of the war. The replication of 39 prints, often embedded with figures but sometimes just with abstracted redacted pages, static and noise from the many exposures to the ferric acid give rise to the repeated actions of cold 'blood lust' and the layers of repercussions and generational trauma associated with war, but especially the war crime victim experience and the moral injuries of those who committed or bore witness to atrocities.

Canadian war journalist Graham Smith's story, Ghosts of Afghanistan which was shown on ABC's Four Corners was also very affecting.

I spent over a year all up in Afghanistan, and a lot of my other service was in relation to helping this nation. I loved the Afghan people I met and wanted the best for them and their beautiful country. As the Coalition Forces look to extract by 11 September 2021, I am saddened that so much effort and interference has resulted in such mixed, and often terrible results.

Since working on this project, the trial of Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC has also being a significant backdrop. It seems that the ghosts and 'truth bombs' of this war keep being exposed. The Other - the wife, the battered girlfriend, Afghans, the morally injured and bullied - is finally having a chance to talk. I don't want to be presumptuous and talk for any of these Others, but as a war widow, woman and mother I have a unique experience of war and being cast as the other many times. The ease that so many are afforded currency and prestige whilst the stories of many are silenced is something I want to continue exploring in my work. Who gets the memorial, the meritorious citation, the Victoria Cross, and who suffers, silenced, should be considered.

I had a tiny example and personal experience of this last week. A veteran artist friend asked me to contribute to an art commission he is working on for the Museum of Sydney. He wanted me to add a photo of my service experience in a work that explored unit, 1 Royal Australian Regiment, in Vietnam in 1965. He was titling his work 'Every Man has Memories' referencing some dialogue in the short film he was responding to. I said I could contribute if the title changed. He responded that war was then 'an exclusively male domain' and the title reflected that. I respectfully offered that war has never only been about a male experience and that the othering of the memories and stories of women and people of colour was partly to blame for this misnomer. I wanted to contribute, but only if the title of the piece reflected an inclusive and expansive bases of belief. Sadly, he thought my 'feminist' lens too narrow and I felt it best to sit out on the offer to contribute.

It felt ironic that so much of my work this year has been been reflecting on the dominance of the white and male memory of war, and yet as I worked on this exploration, I was experiencing it in my own career as an artist.

All of this has been reflected in my work. Please check it out via my gallery and blogs!

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