YOUR SACRIFICE FOR OUR FREEDOM
Willem Persoon - Writer, ‘Our Soldiers’ Flanders-Belgium .................<nederlandse tekst versies>


We heard our parents and grandparents tell stories of The Great War. The Flanders Battlefields had completely changed their way of life. The political efforts at the beginning of last century led to a tragic conflict. The borders of European countries would be reset. The violence of war burst loose in a country that had declared itself neutral. No one heard this point of view of an independent small country that came into being as the buffer between the Superpowers.

What nobody expected, still happened. A frontline from the Belgian coast at the North Sea, through France up to Switzerland would hold out for four years.

New techniques, the arrival of aviation, the use of mustard gas, new heavy murder weapons resulted in a totally different way of warfare. Mankind had taken the step to self-destruction.

Once again Flanders became the stage where international conflicts were battled out. Throughout history this had repeatedly happened. Our regions had been occupied by Romans,  Habsburgs, Spaniards, Austrians, French and Germans. The strategic position of our motherland often turned it to a bloody battlefield.

This also led to tension within our own country, between our communities, within the towns and villages up to the intimacy of individual families.

At school we learnt how Julius Caesar called us Belgians the ‘Bravest among the Gallians’.

At school we learnt how a simple lockkeeper named Karel Cogge opened the sluice and flooded the Westhoek. By doing this the front line was set in the Flemish Westhoek, in the midst of the most charming landscapes at the North Sea. By doing this, four years of misery, mud, blood and death had started.

He who sees the many graveyards and tens of thousands little white crosses on the scene spontaneously thinks: “This is not possible! They have lied to us.”

He who sees all these foreign names of very young men, thinks: ‘What were they looking for here?” What and who motivated them? These German soldiers? The Belgians ? The Britons? All these Canadians, Australians, South Africans, the many New Zealanders?

THIS WE DID NOT LEARN AT SCHOOL!

Were your and our forefathers adventurers? Or were they heroes? Did they believe in freedom of man? In any case they sacrificed their own life for our freedom.

This we did not learn at school. We merely came to understand it a little better when realizing this project ‘Our soldiers’. Because it is mostly about ‘Your soldiers’.

May this contribute to a better understanding between people, especially between Flanders-Belgium and New Zealand. Despite new wars, until man understands that only peace and dialogue can bring true happiness.

Maybe art can make the world a little better after all.


OUR SOLDIERS
Concept Veerle Rooms, project leader ..............


The project ‘Our Soldiers’ required a complete and long-lasting empathy in the past with its historic events and traces that are still visible in Flanders Fields and that are also stored in the memory of New Zealanders through testimonies and oral tradition. In addition to this a new perception of the Great War was made possible through the evolution of landscapes as well as the contemporary way of thinking of a new generation.
This is why I wanted to plan and execute my part in the project by a number of basic concepts gathered under the same theme: AURA.
Starting from current landscapes I wanted to place the historic events in an aura, by integrating text into the images.
In the prints different aspects of warfare are reconstructed. The depicted subjects are not so much the fights themselves, but more likely the things that happened behind the lines. In particular the long waits, the towns and landscapes in ruins, medical care, food supply, relief, victims, honour, soldiers cemeteries and monuments. The role of the women, in medical care, in signals units or communication services, the role of families in New Zealand and the countless letters from and to the frontline are emphasized.
The fact that practically none of the thousands of young men killed in action was taken home to his country of origin, makes us the keepers and caretakers of a very tragic chapter in history.
This is why a lot of attention goes to the relics and cemeteries in Flanders and to the monuments in New Zealand. In New Zealand there was a search for pictures and documentation, writings etc. from and to soldiers who were killed in the Great War or who  survived it. 
From an artistic point of view I wanted to bring forward the individual from the multitude. Therefore prints were realized, starting from portraits and/or writings, then mixed with a contemporary poetic approach. Classical techniques like relief printing, as well as specialized digital and photographic techniques were used. The part that was elaborated in Christchurch, is mainly the result of research on the spot. This material was also used in the workshops with students of the Girls’ Art School. They had to put themselves in the position of their military ancestors or relatives in wartime. By doing so, the team could immediately sound out the reactions of the young generation to certain situations during the madness of the First World War.


OUR SOLDIERS
Lieve Bierque – Concept .............


.The special commemorative services to mark the 90th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele was definitely also a catalyst and source of inspiration to begin our ’Our Soldiers’ project.

Creating art work using the theme ‘Memories’ resulted in my solo exhibition ‘Lieve Bierque: Souvenir de Belgique’ in March 2007 in the NGgallery in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the mixed media prints I used old family photos and documents.  The title of the exhibition and the depiction in my work of embroidered postcards which many soldiers sent home to New Zealand in WWI, symbolised the first link between, Flanders – Belgium and New Zealand.

During regular visits in 2006 and 2007 to Belgium I and my husband Gavin Bonnett  re-established a closer friendship with Veerle Rooms visual artist and Willem Persoon author.Together we instigated the theme ‘OUR SOLDIERS’ and involved the New Zealand author Kate McColl and O’Connor, historian.
Creating art work together using ‘Image and Word’ can be a way of establishing new connections between ‘past, today and future’ for people from New Zealand and Flanders-Belgium.To establish new connections we have to be conscious of our past and future thoughts and actions, in the same way as we have to be conscious of our present thoughts and actions. Connections are also easier to construct when we are aware of our identity and belonging.
Having knowledge of the past, in this project WWI in Flanders, and honouring the soldiers and families involved is our ‘Point de Depart’ to institute new creative relationships between artist from New Zealand and Flanders, Belgium.  
Photos, war memorabilia and letters are powerful visual images and written words of WWI.  These images and stories can establish an imaginary possession of the past which can help us in the act of remembering. Sometimes I call it ‘Drawing’ from the past. The very act of ‘drawing’ is an act of remembering. Treasuring memorable images, accumulating and merging them in mixed media ‘Image and Word’ works are ways to honour and preserve the past for the future.