The art of war
By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer
As Canada commemorates the end of the military mission in Afghanistan, a new exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) explores issues around international conflict and the Canadian Forces’ involvement on the world stage.
Terms of Engagement displays works by three artists who participated in the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP). Adrian Stimson, Dick Averns and nichola feldman-kiss deployed to Afghanistan, Sinai and Sudan with the United Nations mission, respectively, from 2009-2011. Unlike previous war art programs that date back to the First World War, the CFAP does not exhibit, purchase or otherwise support artists once their deployment is over.
“Although the exhibition doesn’t directly address the National Day of Honour, works such as Adrian Stimson’s Afghanistan video series can help viewers better understand and contemplate international conflicts,” says Sarah Smith, Curator of Contemporary Art, AEAC. “I believe his work has a critical edge that offers viewers the opportunity to go beyond memorializing and ask questions of Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan.”
Christine Conley, a professor at the University of Ottawa, curated the exhibition that was organized by the AEAC in partnership with the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax and the Esker Foundation in Calgary. Ms. Conley says the independence of the artists allows them to explore the politics of military intervention.
At the same time, the artists relied on the Canadian Forces’ hospitality, protection and social networks in order to access the war zones. The result is ambivalence in the works, according to Ms. Smith, most notably in pieces by Dick Averns, who was hosted by the Multinational Force and Observers (North Base, Sinai), an international peacekeeping force.
“In the 20 photographs that make up the 2009 work “Canadian MFO Contingent,” you can see Mr. Averns really engaged the soldiers who are sitting for those portraits,” Ms. Smith says. “The exhibition offers, I believe, an important duality of both honouring the troops but also reflecting on the recent history of Canadian military engagement abroad.”
The exhibition continues until Aug. 10. The Terms of Engagement website also contains videos of the artists speaking about their work and their CFAP experience. The AEAC has two tablets that patrons can use to view the videos when they are walking through the exhibition. Ms. Smith will lead a free tour of the exhibition on May 29 from 12:15-1 pm. There will also be a public discussion on peacekeeping and Canada’s military at the gallery on June 8 from 2-3:15 pm. This event will feature Major Brent Beardsley in conversation with Jamie Swift.