On Memorials

I was talking with the father of a dead soldier. I'm not such a fan of the terms "lost" or "fallen" as they both lean to heavily on a lack of intention. In the case of a volunteer army, everyone knows what they're getting themselves into. That's not to say anyone wants to die, goes looking for it and doesn't cherish their lives. Quite the opposite I suspect.

But lets be clear that if you're a soldier (and this has degrees to it: An infantry soldier is not an MP is not a naval cook), especially a combat arms soldier, the draw to violence is part of your trade – is most likely one of the reasons you chose the trade in the first place.

Having talked with the father, who told me of the many portraits of his son that have been attempted and created, I've been thinking about the culture of "fallen" soldier portraits that exists within certain parts of Canadian visual art society. There are some famous folk doing them, some regionally known artists plying their trade and even more, well-meaning memorial painting collectives. Everyone has their reasons: some noble, some engaged, some mysteriously devoid of purpose.

It seems unfair to criticize such projects and endeavours, as they certainly have their place. I'll simply say that, for me, it seems worthwhile to honour the draw to violence that binds the dead. To pretend the draw doesn't exist – isn't central – lessens these lives that ended earlier than expected.

The painting below is excerpted from a live fire exercise during Ex Desert Ram. The fire base commander (that these tracers emanate from) was commanded by Mcpl. Byron Greff, who some seven months later would become the sole fatality on RotoZero of the Afghan training mission.

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