An intimate and powerful installation called, In Our Own Words: Soldiers’ thoughts from Afghanistan, has been created by the Cumbrian artist Derek Eland at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester.
Eland, a former paratrooper turned artist, reflects on individual experiences on the front line of a contemporary conflict.
From the remarkable to the mundane, the extraordinary to the everyday, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade recorded their honest and personal thoughts on small pieces of card.
Marking the tenth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan Eland visited Afghanistan and created a ‘diary room’ experience for troops, providing them with blank cards and offering them the opportunity to write down their thoughts.
The comments written on the cards are raw, honest and varied.
The reality of everyday life for troops sits alongside emotional accounts written in the immediate aftermath of battle.
“Your mind clicks into a gear that you never knew you had, and you bark orders like your life depends on it… and GUESS WHAT: IT DOES!”
“My abiding memory of Afghanistan? … It will be a humble local farmer who one day took me by surprise by asking after my family. “You are far from home. You must miss your family very much. We are very grateful.”
Mr Eland also collated message cards written by a range of other personnel, including engineers, pioneers, medics, dog handlers, interpreters and members of the Afghan National Army.
Covered with sand and weather stains, some comments were even written on sections of ration boxes or held together with tape.
Artist Derek Eland said: “It was an enormous privilege to spend time with these soldiers at the front line and to help create this extraordinary piece of artwork.
“It is essentially a unique self-portrait of this modern conflict, written at the time by the soldiers in their own words. This is their story.”
Colonel Hugo Fletcher, Deputy Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said: “Derek Eland is an accomplished artist who focuses on people’s interaction with their surroundings and circumstances.
“His genius has been in capturing the soldiers’ own thoughts during the operation; the display is their story; it offers an informed insight into the arduous and challenging operations in Afghanistan, reflecting their intelligence, stoicism and wit.”
The message cards written by troops will now be shown at Imperial War Museum North, displayed in a similar manner to how they were originally posted in Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan.
The exhibition, part of the Museum’s Reactions series, can be seen at The WaterWay, 1 October 2011 – 24 June 2012. Free Entry, (donations welcome). www.iwm.org.uk/north