Artist paints himself to Afghanistan
British Columbia artist Christopher Baird Hennebery is a former soldier who always assumed he would serve overseas. But he never would have guessed he would do so armed only with pencils and paintbrushes. Chris’ project, Painting to Afghanistan, focuses on documenting, through painting and photography, the effort Canadian soldiers are making to create stability in Afghanistan. The goal is to create paintings that accurately portray the environment and the impact Canadians are having in Afghanistan.
For over 20 years Chris served as a reserve soldier in the Royal Westminster Regiment in New Westminster, BC. He is also a classically trained painter, attending Emily Carr University after graduating from high school in 100 Mile House. This March Chris and photographer, Shaun O’Mara, are heading to Afghanistan. As an embedded artist he will be sent out to the forward patrol bases to sketch and paint Canadians serving on the front lines of the Afghan conflict. By combining his passion for painting and his knowledge of the military, Chris intends to create a unique visual legacy that captures the spirit and commitment of Canada’s reserve soldiers.
Since the start of the Afghan conflict, over 2000 reservists have served overseas. Many of these volunteer soldiers have been wounded and, to date, nine have died. Chris feels that Canadians are not very well informed as to who these soldiers are. “The average Canadian looks at these men and women and believes they are all full-time, career soldiers. In fact, many of them are reservists: they are your neighbors, your postal carriers or your local firemen,” said Chris. The reserve’s role is to augment the regular armed forces; in past missions as much as 40% of the mission personnel were reservists. In order to serve overseas, many reservist soldiers give up their jobs or put their education on hold in order to volunteer for foreign duty. Unlike the United States, Canada provides no job security for reserve soldiers who choose to serve overseas.
Shaun and Chris have been fortunate to receive some donations to help pay for the project. “We couldn’t have done this without the support of our friends. Body armor and Kevlar helmets aren’t the sort of things one normally has on hand,” Chris said. “It’s an inspiring project and an exciting opportunity to document the many efforts of Canada’s reserve soldiers in Afghanistan.” Many of the finished art pieces will be donated to local regiments and Chris is hoping that the Canadian War Museum will also accept a piece. A Painting to Afghanistan exhibit is being organized for April 2012.
Christopher Baird Hennebery, CD, MBA
Vancouver, BC, Canada