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Al Henderson, "Target," 2011, Copper Jacketed Lead, 3.75" X 5.5", Edition of 12. Photo by Corey Hochachka.
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Al Henderson, "Tread Boy," 2011, Bronze, 6.75" X 22.25", Edition of 12.
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"Jackson, Duck Parade"
Al Henderson, "Jackson, Duck Parade," Lightjet Print on Aluminum, 49.5" X 12", 2011, Edition of 12.
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"Rob's Story (detail)"
Al Henderson, "Rob's Story (detail)," Lightjet Print on Aluminum, Four Panels 63" X 33" each, 2011, Edition of 12.
AL HENDERSON, "Light Horse Tales of an Afghan War"
Mar 19 - Apr 2, 2011
Douglas Udell Gallery, Edmonton
By Ross Bradley
As Canada begins its withdrawal from active duty in Afghanistan, it is an appropriate time to look back at our involvement and impact over the past ten years. Al Henderson’s exhibition Light Horse Tales of an Afghan War is a very personal vision of the interaction between the South Alberta Light Horse Regiment and the Afghan people during this mission.
Henderson, an army reservist until he retired from the forces in 2000, has drawn on his previous active service experience and his contacts in the current forces, to create a collection of tales told through original drawings and sculptures. As with any war stories, the images of death and destruction reported in the media, are rarely easy to contemplate. Henderson’s tales are a more personal look at the struggles of the Afghan people to carry on a normal life in the middle of a battle field.
Trained in sculpture at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Henderson has in recent years concentrated on large scale public works. However, in keeping with the personal nature of Light Horse Tales …,the sculptures are of a much smaller, more intimate nature, while the five drawings are translated into a monumental scale.
The first three tales are presented in the style of the Visual Translator brochures used by the forces to assist in communicating with the local population. Rob’s Story recounts surviving a rocket attack on his patrol. This mural-sized work, in four panels, captures the violence and mayhem in classic comic book fashion. It also includes the reality of civilian casualities lying side by side with the Canadian soldiers. On a more positive note, Renee’s Storyrecounts her meeting with one of the elder women in a rare and touching exchange between cultures. Shawn’s Story looks at the domestic animals that, like the children, manage to survive on what they can scrounge from the army. It takes a more whimsical point of view with its inclusion of the adventures of Jackson, the rubber ducky mascot of the unit, who takes his pride of place in the impressive convoy of armed vehicles.
The 14 bronze and marble sculptures revert to the artist’s more classical style. The materials tend to move the sometimes gruesome subject matter to an abstract ‘memento mori.’ In the tradition of French painter Théodore Géricault (early 19thC artist who bridged the gap between neo-classicism and romanticism, best known for his military themes), these pieces cloak the realities of man’s inhumanity to man in the guise of academia. Much more poignant are the depictions of children in a struggle to survive in the midst of a war, eking out a living off the detritus of battle. Target depicts children risking their lives as they wait behind the targets ready to retrieve the metal casings as the soldiers practice their marksmanship. These works, like the collection of toy soldiers, are created in copper incased lead, just like the bullets they scavenge.
The most powerful works are Tread Boy and Turret Girl. Both encompass the subtle surreal elements, characteristic of much of Henderson’s work, making them particularly compelling. The young boy drags an abandoned tank tread for many miles, down a dusty road to sell the scrap metal for pennies while the tiny girl with her tank turret parasol decorated with machine guns stands as an icon of the human cost to children who know no other life but war.
The Douglas Udell Gallery is to be commended for hosting this challenging exhibition. With its well illustrated and documented catalogue, it provides a worthy addition to Canada’s strong tradition of war art. Henderson, in creating this new body of work independent of the official programs, has maintained an objective perspective, unique to the history of ‘Official’ war artists.