CALGARY — They were the public faces of Canada in the Afghan war. Now an exhibit of those who led the mission is on display at The Military Museums in Calgary.
“The Art of Command: Portraits and Posters from Canada’s Afghan Mission” is by Toronto war artist Gertrude Kearns and examines the roles of some highly ranked individuals who fought and commanded in Afghanistan.
Eighteen individuals are featured in the exhibit, which includes 39 large paintings, drawings and posters reflecting the style of Second World War propaganda posters.
“You have the kind of full-body drawings, which are slightly larger than life, and then you have the bust portraits which are much, much larger, and so they are quite commanding — pun intended,” said Lindsey Sharman, curator of the University of Calgary’s Founders’ Gallery.
She said it’s unusual to sit for portraits in this digital age, but Kearns persuaded her subjects to come to her Toronto studio while she painted. She also took notes about their time in Afghanistan — what they took away from the experience, their impressions of successes and failures and the general situation while they were there.
“This is my exploration into the inner struggles of those at the Afghan operation’s highest levels,” Kearns said in a release.
“I wanted the portraits to convey their internal workings, calculating, planning, under pressure, alone. The works are not about projecting leadership, per se. They are about being commanders.”
The paintings were done between 2006 and 2015.
Kearns created posters by overlaying paintings with text from her conversations to give some insight into each individual.
A movie-style poster of Gen. Jonathan Vance, currently chief of defence staff for the Canadian Forces, is headlined “Concept and War” with a note at the bottom that reads: “No time for Hollywood Moments.”
A poster of retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, now a Liberal MP, is entitled “Science of War” and “The War for Our Generation.”
Sharman’s favourite is of former lieutenant-colonel Omer Lavoie, who was a battle group commander. Lavoie was promoted to major general in January.
“For My Soldiers” reads the poster and underneath it says: “Rest in Peace.” At the bottom are the names of the 18 soldiers who died during his command.
“He was very adamant that this is what he wanted to convey … those fellow soldiers who were lost on his command,” said Sharman.
During the Afghan mission, 158 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat died.
There is only one civilian in the ‘who’s who’ of the Canadian Forces. Chris Alexander was Canada’s first resident ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. He later ran for office and would become minister of citizenship and immigration in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
Sharman said the exhibit doesn’t focus as much on the Afghan battles as it does on the individuals making the decisions.
“What she is really wanting to look at is … the repercussions and the consequences of those people who are not only on the front lines but are also calling the shots … making those choices and all of those really hard decisions.”
The exhibition runs until October 30.