The human face of war

Gallipoli Art Prize

By Victoria Khroundina | April 23, 2015


The very first blog I wrote for Cornucopia two years ago was on the Gallipoli Art Prize. And now on the Gallipoli Campaign’s centenary and the prize’s tenth and final instalment, it feels fitting and somehow bitter-sweet to report on it again. 

The winner and runners-up were announced yesterday. There was a record number of entries this year: 183 in total. And although the prize’s organisers, the Gallipoli Memorial Club, have said that this would be its last year, the club will make a more conclusive announcement about the prize’s future in August.

The Sydney artist Sally Robinson’s painting ‘Boy Soldiers’ (main image) took first place and a kitty of $20,000. In an age of homemade videos, digital domination and new media art, the pixelated texture of the work rings truly modern. The subject matter, however, is sombre.

The painting depicts gravestones at Lone Pine Cemetery, with the names and ages of the youngest soldiers to lose their lives in the campaign stencilled on top. The first name on the work is that of Jim Martin, who at 14 years of age was believed to be the youngest Australian to die in active service – he succombed to heart failure six months after enlisting in 1915.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Robinson drew upon her own emotional experience of visiting Gallipoli to create the work. Besides referencing the digital landscape, she wanted to create a ‘dreamlike craziness’ to highlight the difficulty of truly grasping the scale of the lives lost.

On her visit, Robinson encountered a young male visitor who became distressed when he read the ages of the men on the gravestones. ‘We were all feeling the same thing. but I guess he was facing his own mortality and that of his friends,’ Robinson told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Because it was the centenary coming up, I started to think more about Gallipoli and that experience of seeing those gravesites, and I decided that I would like to do that as a painting.’

‘No one who has visited this place can fail to be moved by the inscriptions which reveal the youth of the fallen soldiers,’ said judge John McDonald of the winning work in a press release. ‘In Robinson’s picture the words swim in hallucinogenic fashion across the canvas, as if the artist – and by extension, the viewer – is struggling to come to terms with this realisation.’

The Victorian artist Martin Tighe was highly commended for his painting, ‘The Burden’. ‘I have long been interested in the iconography of animals. The donkey is an animal rich in symbolism. It represents service, suffering, peace and humility and reflects many of the characteristics of those who fought for their country at Gallipoli 100 years ago. These values are still relevant in defining our national identity today,’ says the artist.

The second highly commended award went to the New South Wales artist Maryanne Wick whose abstract work ‘Greater love hath no man’ was dedicated to her grandmother, who had three sons go to war.

Here are works by some of the other finalists:

Fleur MacDonald’s ‘Architect of War and Peace’ highlights the important part the humble pencil played in the making of history.

Hadyn Wilson, ‘In Memorium’

Since Federation, Australia has been to war against many nations – from the Boer War to the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as lesser-known conflicts. Now, due to immigration, many of these countries' nationals have become Australians themselves. This painting aims to celebrate the contributions of different cultures to Australia and at the same time honour those countries Australia has fought against, and the consequent lives lost.

Susan Sutton, ‘Out came the Sherrin’

‘I created this image combining my ongoing interest in both Australian sport and military life,’ says Susan Sutton. ‘In my research I compared historical photographs of country football teams in the early 1900s with those of massed soldiers at the Gallipoli front, particularly in moments of relaxation. The close companionship and bonding which develops from playing in a team can easily be compared and related to Army life. In 1915 those young men, who were little more than boys, naturally would have needed diversion from the shocking hardships they faced. Amidst the overwhelming mayhem of their situation, I have attempted to convey a momentary outbreak of sheer revelry.’

Terence Mahony, ‘Serving their Country’

Despite a ban on non-Europeans enlisting during the two world wars, 1,000 indigenous Australians enlisted into service for the First World War. That number rose to more than 3,000 during the Second World War. They came from a section of society with few rights, low wages and poor living conditions. They could not vote and were not counted in the census. On their return home after the First World War, indigenous soldiers found that not only had discrimination remained, it had in fact worsened. They found that the best land in Aboriginal Reserves had been confiscated for Solider Settlement Blocks, without compensation. Unfortunately, such disgusting practices are being inflicted on Australian Aboriginals to this day.

Wilhelmus Breikers, ‘The Way’

An exhibition of the works by the 38 finalists will be open from today until Sunday, May 3 (excluding Anzac Day and April 26) at the Gallipoli Memorial Club, from 10am to 5pm.

Posted in Contemporary Art, Fine Art, History, News
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