New book on the history of military art explores the role of conflict in the lives of Canadians

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“It examines the history of Canadian military art from its beginnings to the present day – so it’s a huge sweep of history documented in art”

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On Remembrance Day, the Art Canada Institute (ACI) is launching an online art book, War Art in Canada: A Critical History, featuring works by well-known creators, such as AY Jackson, Alex Colville, Molly Lamb Bobak and Edward Burtynsky. The book takes a look at the country’s military history from the 17th century to the present day, interweaving the histories of the military art of indigenous peoples and settlers.

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Military historian and author Laura Brandon spoke to the National Post about her new book and how she hopes to help Canadians understand that the history of conflict in Canada is more than a 20th century phenomenon. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Q: What can you tell me about your new book: War Art in Canada: A Critical History?

A: It’s a pretty massive book that is completely digital. It is published by the Art Canada Institute, which specializes in making art and art history accessible in Canada, across the country and around the world in digital format. My book is their first thematic book. So it’s much bigger than previous publications, which were monographs. He examines the history of Canadian military art from its beginnings to the present day.

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Q: How does the military art presented help us reflect on Canadian conflicts over time?

A: This is a fairly concise overview of Canadian military art from time immemorial, based on the physical evidence available to us, which made it much stronger during WWI and WWII than it did. is at other times, particularly the pre-contact period where the story is about the practices of indigenous peoples in the country we now call Canada. The book includes a wide range of visual art, from prints and drawings, cartoons, graphic novels, sculpture, textiles, to anything that tells people about conflict through visual means. It’s not just about telling people about a conflict because that battle took place on such and such a date, but more about how people experienced the conflict, how they recorded it, how they did it. commemorated and how they protested it in some cases.

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Miss Chief's Wet Dream by Kent Monkman, 2018.
Miss Chief’s Wet Dream by Kent Monkman, 2018. Photo courtesy of the Art Canada Institute

Q: How has the art of war evolved since the pre-contact era?

A: Western post-contact artistic approaches and styles take root in Canada. As far as we know, the artistic practices of Indigenous peoples have continued and we have enough evidence to know that. What you are starting to get is sort of an amalgamation of Western artistic approaches in the form of history, painting, and portraiture. Indigenous practices, which consisted of depicting feats in combat, for example on war-feat dresses or teepees for people who lived on the plains, began to lose importance in art. Canadian War. But one of the really important things that this book highlights is that these practices don’t go away. They are not completely overwhelmed by Western artistic approaches. They are beginning to reappear as a growing number of Indigenous artists in Canada begin to revisit their own history and integrate it into their artistic practices.

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Q: What new perspectives does this book bring to our country’s relationship to combat?

A: We tend to think of our military history as being circumscribed by some of the great world conflicts, and in many ways Remembrance Day embodies that. What this book hopes to do is say that the story is much, much, much bigger. Just because we have a very important and, surprisingly enough, a good legacy of WWI and WWII art doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to the story. . As we move forward in the wake of events in our recent history, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we must pay attention to the older histories of the country we now call Canada.

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Q: Why is it important to publish this book on Remembrance Day?

A: Remembrance Day is the day in Canada when the public reflects on what war means to them and how the war affected themselves, their families, their ancestors and, of course, how it may affect those to come. It seemed important to the Institute and to myself to publish this book on a day when people were reflecting on the role of conflict in their lives and their history.

Private Roy, Canadian Women's Army Corps by Molly Lamb Bobak, 1946.
Private Roy, Canadian Women’s Army Corps by Molly Lamb Bobak, 1946. Photo courtesy of the Art Canada Institute

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