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Re-envisioning the master narrative of Anzac : a painterly investigation of memory and memorialising of the Great War at the Australian War Memorial


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Nay, MW ORCID: 0000-0001-9066-377X 2021 , 'Re-envisioning the master narrative of Anzac : a painterly investigation of memory and memorialising of the Great War at the Australian War Memorial', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This project has used painting to respond to the representation of World War One (WW1) in the Centenary Exhibition of Anzac (CE of A) at the Australian War Memorial (AWM). Research has interrogated how painting can be utilised to augment and enrich understanding of the complex relationships between private and public memorialising beyond that already present in the AWM. Australian academic and military historian Gregory Pemberton argues that the celebration of war and military heroism lies at the core of the legitimising rituals of the modern nation-state. Conceived in battle, the so-called ‘Anzac myth’ is an enduring narrative promulgated by the AWM, often promoting national interest. This project, however, argues that ‘Anzac’ is indefinable, capricious, and in a constant state of change.
Driven by familial connections, this project has explored the concepts of intergenerational trauma and post-memory, resulting in a suite of works that demonstrate how painting can be used to create alternative narratives about the ‘Great War’ (GW). Key sources of imagery include objects and narrative themes used in the AWM, combined with family artefacts. The resulting paintings used collage, pastiche and allegory to evoke the complexities of private and personal understanding of the Great War. The imagery is fractured and overlapping, in contrast to the linear, chronological narrative of the CE of A, addressing the simultaneous continuance of competing interpretations of history that change as time progresses. This strategy—facilitated by identifying narrative voids and understatements in the curatorial styling of the CE of A—allowed for the inclusion of service narratives of soldiers like my grandfather, a casualty-survivor, and my great uncle, killed in action and having no known grave.
The project was informed by the writing of Lisa Saltzman, Marion Hirsch and Joan Gibbons, who provided insight into contemporary art practices that reference trauma, post-memory and the indexical. Throughout the project I have referred to contemporary Anzac historians Carolyn Holbrook and Marilyn Lake for their contesting of the Anzac legend. Frederic Jameson, Craig Owens and Roland Barthes were instrumental in informing the use of allegory and pastiche as key strategies for the paintings, while William Dunning’s historical overview of changes in pictorial space proved an important text for its discussion of painting’s transition from modernism to post-modernism.
The research draws from and contributes to the field of modernist and contemporary war art. It has examined the themes of violence against the mind and body, and its impact on the witness soldiers, and the generations affected by post-memory trauma as a result of the Great War, specifically as represented in the work of Otto Dix, George Lambert, and Stanley Spencer. It references artists whose work explores post-generational trauma in private and public memory and historiographic metafiction, with a specific focus on Paul Gross, Christian Boltanski, Kader Attia and Koken Ergun. Painters for whom collage is a key pictorial strategy, such as Ron Kitaj, Kai Althoff and Helen Johnson, are also discussed. The work of Australian contemporary painter Ben Quilty, witness to war through the AWM’s Official War Art Scheme, provided a diametric contemporary fillip for the research aims.
The outcome of the research is a series of paintings that utilise the unsettling familial witness stories of this war through collage, pastiche and allegory. The research employed specific picturing methodologies developed to address the impact of the GW on current generations. This contribution to the field of Australian war painting submits alternative narratives that restate the power of allegory in the production of painting, problematising the complex nature of intergenerational trauma. The subjective memory traces of the GW considered in this research do not deal with direct experience exclusively. By connecting alternative stories of Anzac to those promulgated by the master narrative (of Anzac), this investigation aimed to visualise narratives which capture the experience of the centenary moment. The final paintings entreat the regeneration of memory to remain relevant and to broaden the meaning of Anzac in Australia’s post-memory culture. As a consequence, the submitted works contrast with the fixed, immutable histories of Official War Art painting of the GW, and offer alternative representations about the GW to those depicted in current representations.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Nay, MW
Keywords: Anzac, painting, memorialising, war, allegory, representations, alternatives
DOI / ID Number: 10.25959/100.00045551
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Copyright 2021 the author

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