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British Artist Conveys Images from War


Over the past eight years, Britain has been involved in two wars -- first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan. Many soldiers have served on the front lines, but one Briton is traveling to war zones on a different mission. Armed with brushes, paints and sketchbooks, she tries to capture the human cost of soldiering.

Arabella Dorman normally works within the safe confines of her London studio -- but she is about to head to Afghanistan. "Of course I'm aware of the dangers," she says. "I'm pretty apprehensive about going in to Afghanistan at the moment but I think it's a calculated risk."

It won't be Dorman's first time in a war zone. In 2006, when the chance to travel with British troops in Iraq arose, she seized the opportunity.

"As a portrait painter, what I'm really interested in is the psychological aspects of soldiering," Dorman tells us, "and I've always been drawn to the ability of the still image to express human history, and I think nowhere is that more evident than actually in the face of the soldiers -- their eyes. They tell a huge story."

She recently exhibited in London where a portrait of British medic Rory Mackenzie drew the most attention. He lost a leg following an attack in Basra, in southern Iraq.

Mackenzie himself explains the circumstances. "We were contacted by an improvised explosive device which penetrated our vehicle -- instantly, traumatically amputating my leg and sadly killing another soldier. So that's how I lost my leg and that was two and a half years ago."

Most of the paintings in the exhibit are images from Iraq, although Mackenzie's portrait was done when Dorman returned to Britain. She says she wanted to illustrate the living casualties of war.

"I think really the determination and the sheer guts and will power, to get himself back -- more than back to life -- shows a remarkable tenacity and a joy of life, and a will to live it to the full," explains the artist.

Mackenzie is training to be a psychiatric nurse. He says he wants to help other soldiers who return home with life-changing injuries. He says if there is something good that's come from his injury, it's this portrait. "I'm just a medic who lost a limb doing what I'm paid to do. And then I was asked to have my portrait painted and now there's a big fuss about it. It's quite nice," he says modestly.

Dorman is now planning another stint in a war zone. This month she travels to Afghanistan to spend time with British troops.

As with her paintings from Iraq, she says she'll try to capture the average soldier, and the camaraderie that often exists between troops. "I'm trying to reveal the immense bravery, strength and courage in all of these soldiers,' she says. "It overwhelms you when you're actually in theatre with them. It's a very, very humbling and moving thing to see."

One day, Dorman hopes to work with American troops as well.

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