Dick Averns was caught in an unfamiliar situation. A group of young Jewish women began a protest in the narrow roads around the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As the Israeli military began to break up the protest, Averns quietly recorded the moment. "I recorded the protest with my SLR camera, which really doesn't look like a video camera," he says. "It's good and bad to travel on your own. You may get into dangerous situations like that but if you never travelled alone, you would miss it."
Averns is one of a select group of artists continuing in the long tradition of creating art from conflict areas. Canada's recent history in war is recorded in Terms of Engagement, on at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery. The engaging and sober works were created by Averns, nichola feldman-kiss and Adrian Stimson through the Canadian Forces Artists Program.
Each artist explored a different part of the world where Canadians were involved in military conflict. Averns visited the Middle East in 2009 with the Multinational Force and Observors, an independent peacekeeping organization. feldman-kiss toured Sudan with UN troops in 2011 and Stimson visited a Canadian military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2010. The Canadian Forces Artists Program is designed for artists to create artistic works based on war and conflict through first-hand accounts.
Averns' work is multifaceted and complex, with a mix of video, sculpture and text about his experience. In many ways, the work mirrors Averns' journey through the Middle East. He began his 18-day trip in Egypt, where he spent one week in Cairo and the demilitarized zone on the Sinai Peninsula. He later flew to Tel Aviv and explored Jerusalem and the West Bank.
"I've been interested in creating representations of conflict since 9/11," says Averns. "I wanted to engage more directly to the audience through this work."
With each location comes a different type of work. feldman-kiss spent nearly four weeks in Sudan, shortly before the creation of South Sudan. Her raw, emotive photos and video installations are a reflection of her journey through the ravaged nation.
"I wanted to study the African social body and conflict from the perspective of an African diaspora artist," she says. "We live in society where death is out-of-sight, out-of-mind. In Sudan, death is in your face and fatality of life is banal."
feldman-kiss explored Sudan with the help of two guides and UN peacekeepers, visiting places only a few will ever experience. "We went on a boat patrol up the Nile with the Bangladesh navy and came across this small garrison village," she says. "It was a horrible place for children. When you're there, everything completely hurts and you have hope at the same time. You cannot imagine what it's like until you're there."
Adrian Stimson's photography and drawings re-imagine the war zone entirely. His time in Afghanistan was spent shadowing an Aboriginal soldier in Kandahar. Stimson's work focuses on the everyday life of solider. A member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation, Stimson also explores the issues of having Aboriginal soldiers in the military.
"There's a history of the colonized working with the colonizer," says Stimson. "The photos and video I took pushed me that direction. I wanted to look at the idea of memory and do we ever learn from conflict."
While none of the artists take a definitive stance on war and peace, the effect of their journeys is clear. Stimson hopes to work on a project involving post-traumatic stress disorder in the military.
"I think there's something to be learned from people who went through residential schools," says Stimson. "Maybe my next project will be people from residential schools talking to soldiers who suffer from PTSD. There's a trauma placed on people through conflict."
Terms of Engagement
Opening, lecture and tour Saturday, January 18, 2-5pm
MSVU Art Gallery, Seton Academic Centre, ground floor
166 Bedford Highway
To March 9