The Helmand Project describes the results of Derek Eland’s time as an official war artist in Afghanistan in 2011. The artist visited Afghanistan last year to create a ‘Diary Room’ experience for front line soldiers, both British and Afghan, by providing them with blank cards and offering them the opportunity to write down their immediate thoughts. The stories and comments written on the cards are raw, honest and varied, from the remarkable to the mundane, the extraordinary to the everyday.

The reality of everyday life for troops sits alongside emotional accounts written in the immediate aftermath of battle. The work presents a collective self portrait of individual experiences on the front line of a contemporary conflict with soldiers often referring to ‘two wars’: one involving bullets and bombs and the other which goes on in a soldiers head when everything goes quiet.

The project and resulting exhibition, called In Our Own Words’ at the Imperial War Museum, Manchester until June 2012, has been described by the Independent as ‘groundbreaking’ and the story has been covered by the press in over 30 countries worldwide including print, radio and TV coverage. The work has been particularly featured on BBC Radio 3, 4 and 5 Live, BBC news, a BBC TV documentary, the Independent, The i, Sunday Mirror, Agence France-Presse and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The Afghanistan exhibition tours the UK over the next few years, going to next the Russell-Cotes Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth in October 2012.

Ian Stephens, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism recently said: ‘Derek is part of a long line of Cumbrian based artists who have created cutting edge work and continue to be at the forefront of the creative industries. His installation is of considerable importance, it is at times touching, sensitive and poignant, often rendering to the viewer the extreme conditions soldiers in Afghanistan serve under day in day out.’

Tarnya Cooper, Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London, recently described the work as ‘fascinating and moving’.

Derek Eland is kindly sponsored by Leica Cameras.

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