Artist Jevan Watkins Jones talks about his experiences collaborating with soldiers and veterans for new exhibition facing – recovering, currently on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson until February 1.
What was your role in the project?
My role was as lead artist responsible for designing and delivering a socially engaged art project with wounded and injured soldiers (WIS) as an Associate Artist to the Learning Team, firstsite in partnership with Chavasse VC House, Recovery Centre, Colchester Garrison. The project was based at the centre one day a week for 10 months.
How did you work with the soldiers and veterans to share their personal stories and experience of injury and post-traumatic stress?
Words became drawing and drawing became words – they were interwoven. My original intention had been to draw more myself in the situation, directly from them and their stories. I had intended to create an active studio space where drawings were left on the wall of the canteen. First mine then theirs. This was not allowed on the new centre walls but also it became less relevant. The space I had created appeared to have founded itself upon talking together; talking about soldiering and art and, liminally, the human relationship between these two – me and them. I say ‘me and them’ though I often listened more than I spoke because it was still the offer of ‘Drawing with Jevan’ that instigated that space and my job to draw the visual out in a relational way. It was my duty in this instance not there’s. They didn’t have to participate or even turn up. The only way that the drawing-out could happen was to keep hold of these conversations as best I could in note form in order to draw on them in weeks to come. Key events were up most in my mind and these became drivers, or more rewardingly, evidence of a growing rapport with a few individuals channelling the course of the project at what was and still remains for many a raw time.
How is this exhibition significant to the current experiences of the armed forces?
From my perspective as an artist, civilian and having a step-son who has served in Afghanistan, it is significant in as much as it presents the contemporary soldier as a fellow human being who is as vulnerable if not more because of the extreme situations they face. My experience through this project is that many soldiers feel unable, even disabled, to reconcile their experiences with living a civilian life. The adjustment appears to be challenging and is certainly exacerbated by persistent stereotypes that can reinforce a sense of isolation or at least difference. The few soldiers I met wanted to express themselves personally and grab an opportunity to publicly declare their voice so that as Luke Hardy, Ex-Private and Sniper said people would be able to see ‘..the person behind the soldier.’
Is there a particular piece in this exhibition that stood out for you?
They, of course, all do for different reasons but because I have a particular love for drawing I would single out Josh’s drawing, ‘maimed Man’ as it really rocked me when he first presented it to me. Art has this potential but it is infrequently met. It is drawing in its most elemental, stripped back and sincere. It is also such a timeless image – man against man, defence, protection and humanity all rolled into one.
facing – recovering is on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson until 1st February 2015.