Some months ago I wrote about the growing phenomenon of “street art” at the KAF base in Kandahar, in south-eastern Afghanistan. There was even a response to the incarceration of Ai Weiwei here and there on the concrete blast walls. Now we find the Australian official war artist Ben Quilty getting in on the act. His variation on the Australian coat of arms is a radical challenge to iconographic analysis. While the Australian War Memorial has mentioned his mural in passing in last week’s pre-publicity, we are yet to see them publish a photograph of the work, or to offer an account of the meaning of its symbolism. The inclusion of skulls and serpents (locally symbolising the infidel crusader) may pose a challenge to officialdom. This may yet prove to be the most radical “war art” yet. We look forward to the official account. Here’s what they say thus far… (This photograph was published in Air Force: the official newspaper of the Royal Australian Air Force, (Vol 53, No 22, Nov 24, 2001, p.17).
And this is the first version of the image: the one above has (for better or worse) been made specific to the KAF context:
Ben Quilty, Landcruiser, 2007, Chinese Ink and Gouache on Aquari paper, 188 x 282cm (from the QUT Ben Quilty Interpretative Guide)
This text by Don Walker accompanies the image: “It’s an old trick. Take a universal, publicly owned snatch of melody, fanfare, phrase or image and pervert it. Ben Quilty has used the Australian coat of arms, an image so official and hoary it’s almost invisible, and mounted it on a mesa piled with skulls. The shield-bearers are presented as road-kill, the kangaroo muzzle flattened by a double bogie. Between them now is a cairn of skulls knitted by worms and lies. The crest is a convict shackle, looking as though it was cut from a kerosene tin, just to make it clear that not all the bones belonged to Indigenous Australians. Like most people, Ben Quilty defies caricature. A bogan who chose to pursue a degree in Aboriginal culture. A petrolhead who buys his art supplies at Bunnings, yet carries tiny notebooks full of the most exquisite pen-and-ink sketches of Venice done in his recent youth. Close in, where Quilty works, his paintings look like a bad paving job. Step back twenty feet and he’s caught the whole sorry tale, a country built by the survivors of pogroms, massacres and land clearances elsewhere, who found a haven here on land cleared by massacres of our own.”
The image and text above was found here. We’re waiting to hear the AWM’s version…