Denmark is now reviving the tradition

Danes send controversial artist to Libya

GMT 12:48 2011 Monday ,03 October

Arab Today, arab today Danes send controversial artist to Libya

The artist Simone Aaberg Kaern with Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Sirte - Arabstoday

The artist Simone Aaberg Kaern with Anders Fogh Rasmussen Simone Aaberg Kaern flew in a Libyan Chinook helicopter from Misrata down the Mediterranean coast to a field hospital near Sirte, one of the last hold-outs of Muammar Gaddafi loyalists. There she donned a flak jacket and helmet and hitched a ride with reporters to the front line to talk to combatants under a flyover, where they were sheltering from artillery fire.
The reason the petite blonde was even in Sirte, which for weeks has been besieged by National Transitional Council (NTC) forces trying to oust Qaddafi diehards? To conduct field research for her new job as Denmark's official war artist.
Decades after its humiliating Second World War defeat by Nazi Germany induced the country to abandon its tradition of recording its conflicts artistically, Denmark is now reviving the tradition, sending artists to Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, where Danish aircraft are playing a prominent role in the Nato air strikes against Qaddafi's rapidly deteriorating military machine.
Kaern, a self-described former punk and squatter in Copenhagen's Christiania hippy commune, might seem an unusual choice for such a role, especially given the controversy when she was chosen to paint the official portrait of Denmark's former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen - now Nato's secretary general. Yet that row has blown over and the painting now hangs in the national parliament.
When Denmark's air force was scrambled to join Nato's Libya campaign last spring and its pilots had no mission combat patch to wear on their uniform sleeves, she was commissioned to hastily produce one. The result was a slightly subversive design that shows a falcon gripping the olive leaves of the United Nations logo in its beak.
The intention was to highlight the irony of "bombing for peace", said Kaern, a 42-year-old mother of six.
Kaern has long had a fascination with flying, dropping out of Goldsmiths College in London to train for her pilot's licence. That led to numerous aeronautical and artistic adventures, including a three-month, 33-stop trip to Kabul in 2002 in an ancient two-seater plane to find an Afghan girl and teach her how to fly after reading about her dream to become a fighter pilot.
That expedition was recorded in the Emmy-nominated film Smiling in a War Zone.
When she heard that the Danish military was looking for four war artists to cover Iraq (from which Danish troops have now withdrawn), Afghanistan, Libya and the struggle with piracy off Somalia, Kaern immediately threw her hat into the ring.
She learnt in mid-September that she had been chosen and was on her way so quickly that she had not even negotiated her fee with Denmark's national history museum, which is overseeing the project and where her work will eventually hang.
She flew to Tunisia, went overland to Tripoli and has since toured the last two major battle scenes in Sirte and Bani Walid, taking photos, doing sketches and absorbing the atmosphere.
Serving as inspiration are the 20th-century British war artist Paul Nash and the Spanish artist Goya - who she believes brilliantly captures the "gruesomeness" of conflict.
Kaern has one to two years to produce just one painting of the Libyan revolution, which erupted in February and saw the rebels slowly take city after city before finally capturing the capital last month. The oil-on-canvas work will measure 4.5 by 3.5 metres.
"It's going to be quite naturalistic in the sense that you can recognise figures," she says. "It will be a picture with a lot of detail. That's why it has to be really big."

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