15 December 2023

Blood, sweat and tears: War Memorial to pay permanent tribute to soldiers, their families

| Sally Hopman
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Australian War Memorial curator Anthea Gunn and artist Alex Seton on the site of the new installation, a tribute to servicepeople and their families, which will open in February next year. Photos: Ian Roach, Australian War Memorial.

Eighteen ‘droplets’ of marble represent the blood, sweat and tears of those who served our country in war and the families who waited at home for them.

The installation of For Every Drop Shed in Anguish, a large contemporary artwork crafted in marble by artist Alex Seton, has begun at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

Project Manager and Senior Curator of Art at the AWM, Anthea Gunn, said the sculpture represented a different way of recognising the true cost of service.

She said the AWM worked with a group of veterans and their families to select an artist who could best represent “their lived experiences”.

“Too often, they felt they hadn’t received that recognition for those who came home from service and cared for by their families. They are not always given the same remembrance as those who have fallen.”

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She said the AWM approached a number of artists about such a commission, but that of Alex Seton was chosen unanimously for its representation of all kinds of experiences – mental and physical.

Dr Gunn described the sculpture as a “public acknowledgement and point of connection to all who have suffered as a consequence of service.

“The colours and crystals that form the marble represent the scars so many live with every day but show them as something beautiful, a symbol of resilience.

“Instead of a traditional heroic sculpture, this work is a contemporary abstract form that creates a place for people to engage through art with the lived experience of service.”

Artist Alex Seton’s work is also featured inside the AWM’s galleries with his 47 marble depictions of folded Australian flags. The As of Today… sculptures commemorate all Australian soldiers who lost their lives as a result of service in Operation Slipper in Afghanistan.

Workmen move hige ball of marble into position at Australian War Memorial

Workmen manoeuvre one of the marble “droplets” into position as they begin the installation of the new Australian War Memorial artwork.

For Every Drop Shed in Anguish is a field of marble droplets on the lawns of the Australian War Memorial,” he said. “These rounded and abstracted liquid forms represent every drop of blood, sweat and tears ever shed by Australian military personnel and their families.

“I chose the dewdrop form for its fragility and tension. Every droplet has a particular shape, defined by its delicate surface tension as if about to burst. But most importantly, when touched, these forms reveal themselves to have an inner strength and resilience that I hope can provide a promise of hope and healing.”

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Mr Seton said he was inspired to create the work from reading the many stories of servicepeople, particularly those returning from Afghanistan. They included issues like suicide, inability to access services, mental health issues – and also those families who put their lives on hold while their loved ones served their country.

“The idea for this work is to have a field of droplets in the heart of the Australian War Memorial,” he said. “Like the scars on the marble, it shows that we are all in some ways imperfect. That’s what makes our character … like how you can touch the gentle droplets to find that they’re hard marble.”

Close-up of large ball of marble

A close-up of one of the marble “droplets” to feature in the new Australian War Memorial installation.

The marble, which the artist sourced from North Queensland, arrived at the AWM in Canberra this week. Cranes were brought in to start installing the pieces. Some of the droplets weighed up to 3000 kg.

It will be dedicated on 22 February 2024 in a public event.

The Director of the AWM, Matt Anderson, described the installation as a “powerful work that will speak to a diverse range of visitors.

“We hope this space on the Memorial grounds will be a welcoming place for visitors to pause and reflect on the experience of service, either theirs or someone they love,” he said.

If this story has raised issues for you, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support. Mental health support for veterans and their families is also available through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046.

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Pity that the AWM has yet again gone out of its way to avoid including the Frontier Wars. Everything in this article restricts the project to soldiers of the ADF who have served overseas. Why is it so impossible to commemorate Australia’s longest war by far, between the original Australians and foreign settlers? The AWM is unthinkingly taking as its model the Imperial War Museum in London, which naturally enough doesn’t recognise the presence of any original Britishers in its midst. It looks as though it’s going to take longer than we thought for the AWM to stop pretending that Australia began in 1788.

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