Ritual Light and Land. An artist’s journey through the Western Front

Master of Fine Art, 2004.  (Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne)

The research for this project took me on a six week journey along the Western Front – the site of the First World War.  Travelling from Ieper through the Somme region to Verdun, I visited countless gravesites, battlefields, museums, people; trudged through  brambles, trenches and  went on an archaeological dig  with a group of people aptly called “The Diggers”  – I tried to make sense of this catastrophic event and its impact on the world and humanity – then and now.   This was my third visit to the Western Front.  I have since made a number of other visits to the area.
The resulting exhibition “Ritual Light and Land, an artists journey through the Western Front” was shown at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne  in April-May 2004.  In 2005 it was exhibited at New Zealand’s Southland Museum as part of their ANZAC Day commemorations.


The Somme / A widow's veil

The Somme / A widow’s veil

The Somme.  (top)  oil and paper on board

This painting maps a section of the Somme River through the battle-scarred land where the French and Commonwealth sectors joined.  Names of the dead, taken from the tiny Hem Farm Monacu Military Cemetery are the foundation of the painting.

The Widow’s Veil.  oil and paper on board

This painting is a tribute to the women who became widows because of the war.  It draws on images of the bridal bouquet as well as the widow’s lace veil.   Beneath the painting are rubbings from the graves of the “Le sodate inconnue”, the unknown soldier.
German War Cemetery / Menin Gate 75 Anniversary

German War Cemetery / Menin Gate 75 Anniversary

Menin Gate, 75th Anniversary, oil and paper on board

Red petals dropped from the ceiling, the wind gathering them up and spilled them, like pools of blood onto the steps of the Menin Gate.   Diary of Anne Riggs 2002.
In July 2002 I attended the anniversary of the opening of the Menin Gate Memorial.   It records the names of 53,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force who are missing in the region and for whom there are no known graves.   Millions passed through the original Menin Gate on their way to the battles of the Ypres Salient.

Neuville St Vaast.  oil and paper on board

Neuville St Vaast is a German Military Cemetery in Northern France.   For many of those people who suffered through the German invasion of France and Belgium, there is a lasting antipathy towards German memorials.  For those of us who did not, these fields of black contribute to a mounting tally of loss.


Winter  oil and paper on board

The First World War was fought during one of the coldest European winters of 1917.  This painting is a contemplation of the harsh life for soldiers who were often without shelter , warmth, dry clothes or adequate food.

Memorial to the Dead

Memorial to the Dead

Memorial to the Dead

The memorial is made of 1500 small hand made and painted ceramic lamps.  They are inspired by rituals found in the many cultures who participated in the war – but whose participation has largely been forgotten.   Drawing on the Diwali festival of light, the colours of the pacific, and the configuration is inspired by the Islamic patterns found in northern Africa, as well as the lace patterns of the French and Belgians.
Lanterns are filled with oil and a wick lit in a ritual of commemoration and remembrance.
The memorial is available for hire for private rituals of loss.