December 1, 2009

How do you Remember and honour the sacrifices of war when you are too young to have ever experienced them… when even your parents have most likely only witnessed the hardships and horrors of battle on TV?

Through the power of art.

Students at Langley Fine Arts School have poured their hearts out in a deeply moving tribute to Canada’s soldiers, and to everyone world-wide who has been afflicted by warfare. From brightly coloured paintings of poppies by Grade 1 and 2 students, to Grade 12 students’ pen and pencil sketches of things they would stuff into a backpack during a sudden evacuation, the exhibition studies the many facets of warfare.

And what the children have achieved are bright tableaux of hope in the midst of despair. To have young people reaching out so passionately and vibrantly with a message that ultimately defies war through loving acts of imagination gives us some sense that perhaps a world without war is possible – if only we could make real the simple aspirations of youth.

National media attention has been focused on the portraits of Canadian soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan since last Remembrance Day. Art teacher Peter Sarganis said the REMEMBRANCE portraits painted by his Grade 11 students have been the most moving art initiative of his teaching career. The students have been immersed in the project since September, and every week has drawn them deeper and deeper into the meaning behind their paintings.

Mr. Sarganis recalls how the anonymous images the students had been assigned to paint became ‘their’ soldiers as the students began to research. One student recounted her feelings at finding personal references on the internet to the soldier she was painting. “I found a FaceBook page that my soldier’s wife had put up,” the student reported. Her soldier turned out to be a funny, sometimes even goofy guy, who was loved by a network of family and friends. “For the rest of my life I will remember my soldier John,” the student said.

Can you find a more meaningful celebration of Remembrance than that – the personality of a soldier who died in action being cherished by a teen who never met him, and whose appreciation of John’s qualities is laden with the knowledge that he’s dead? “It’s hard to get into your mind that this face is not there anymore,” Mr. Sarganis said.

Each student in his or her own way, developed a bond of intimacy with their fallen soldier, a process that broadened and deepened the students’ understanding of war by personalizing it. “I have been so impressed and proud of how mature they’ve been and how they let themselves go to that place.”

While the portraits attracted wide media attention, Mr. Sarganis noted they were one facet of a multi-layered display, with each element of the show depicting young people’s responses to war in a different way. Empathy cards, Birds of Hope and Peace, felted poppies, memory jars, helmets, gigantic paper airplanes, a line of empty soldiers’ boots, a collage depicting correspondence between loved ones during wartime…

As you walk through the display, you cannot help but conclude that REMEMBRANCE is indeed important, and that Peace does have a chance.

The Langley Fine Arts Visual Art Students and Teachers would like to thank Opus Framing & Art Supplies for generously donating all the frames for the “Fallen Canadians” paintings. These framed images are being offered to the families of the Fallen Soldiers.

To read more about this project, please click on the links below. The articles appeared in The Vancouver Sun on November 11th.

Gallery of Portraits: