19 November 2021

Wagga first stop on national tour for intimate war memorial exhibition

| Kim Treasure
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Man getting tattooed on his back.

The Australian War Memorial’s Ink in the Lines is an exhibition about tattoos in the military. Photo: Bob McKendry.

Wagga Wagga is the first stop on a national tour for the Australian War Memorial’s (AWM) Ink in the Lines exhibition, which examines the tales told by military tattoos.

The Director of the AWM, Matt Anderson, will be in the city at 11 am on Saturday 20 November to officially launch Ink in the Lines, which is the centrepiece of three new exhibitions at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.

Wagga Wagga City Council’s Director Community Janice Summerhayes said it was a privilege for the city to have been chosen to launch the national tour of Ink in the Lines.

“Our city has strong military ties as home to the Australian Army Recruit Training Centre – Kapooka, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base at Forest Hill,” Ms Summerhayes said.

“We also have many former defence force personnel and their families who have chosen to make Wagga Wagga their home.

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“We expect this exhibition will appeal not only to the defence community but to a diverse audience through the moving stories it has to tell about those involved in the tattoo project.”

Ink in the Lines relates personal stories and experiences of Australian veterans through the use of tattoos, and features more than 70 portraits.

It details the experiences of 21 Australian servicemen and servicewomen and is thought to be the first exhibition in Australia to examine the use of tattoos in the military.

Throughout 2019, Australian War Memorial photographic curator Stephanie Boyle, photographer Bob McKendry and videographer Stephen Toaldo captured oral history interviews and portrait photography documenting the stories of servicemen and servicewomen and their tattoos. Many of the images and stories that were collected form part of Ink in the Lines.

A diverse range of people feature in the exhibition but a common unifying purpose for getting inked emerges: to remember.

Veteran displaying "we will remember them" tattoo on forearm.

Veterans’ identities are sometimes inscribed on their skin with tattoos. Photo: Bob McKendry.

Ms Boyle said the veterans’ identities were inscribed on their skin, covering the commemoration of loss; experiences of trauma and overcoming adversity; the bonds of family and friends; and acknowledging the experiences that define who they are.

“I hope this exhibition helps visitors engage with Australian military in a way they probably haven’t before, and see that everyone has an important story to tell and that some stories can be written on skin,” she said.

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“The service people we met making this project told stories that are funny, sad, tragic and, above all, human. We continue to be touched and grateful for their honesty and generosity in sharing their stories.”

Mr Anderson described Ink in the Lines as a contemporary exhibition showcasing Australia’s modern veterans and their families who, through their tattoos, commemorate the people, events and experiences that shape their lives.

“The experiences of present-day veterans, and their loved ones, are unique and often intensely private,” he said.

Veteran displaying military tattoo on arm.

There’s nothing more personal than a tattoo. Photo: Bob McKendry.

“There is no more personal way to preserve a memory of an event than to have it tattooed on one’s skin. I would like to thank the veterans who participated in the exhibition for offering their stories. Through their tattoos and their stories, they continue to serve as a reminder of the service and sacrifice we all too often take for granted.”

Ink in the Lines will be on display at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery until 30 January 2022.

To accompany the exhibition, the gallery has commissioned Sydney artist Freya Jobbins to create a new artwork entitled ‘41′.

This artwork has been supported by soldiers from Kapooka’s Wally Thompson Club, who are junior non-commissioned officers and represents the 41 Australian soldiers who lost their lives during the Afghanistan campaign.

Also on exhibition in the new media space are large-scale video works, MQ-9 Reaper I-III, by Canberra-based artist Baden Pailthorpe.

The work explores how technology shapes our experience of the world, contemporary warring, time and space.

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