Invited by a prize-winning artist to sit for a portrait. How often does that happen?
A portrait to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and honour the memory of my great-grandfather, Sergeant Andrew Stewart Duncan. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I have the privilege of participating in The Descendants Project, an exhibition of twenty portraits by Mertim Gökalp of Australian and Turkish war descendants, exploring the understanding of peace between the two nations.
Each subject shared an object that had once belonged to their ancestor, along with a hand-written letter explaining their feelings about the project.
In my letter I wrote:
For the portrait sitting I was very fortunate to be able to borrow Andy’s fob watch. I only learned of its existence in 2013, when I made contact with a distant relative. To be able to hold Andy’s watch, to run my fingers over the engraved initials, “A.S.D.”, was very special. Andy had bought the watch in England in 1917, then posted it back to his wife Jane in Australia – probably after he learned he would soon rejoin his battalion on the Somme. For me holding the watch in 2014, I felt it still contained Andy’s hopes and fears from 1917.
The exhibition launched on 10 April. Of course I had to fly to Sydney along with my son to be part of it. Meeting other descendants that night made me realise how well Mertim had captured their essence in his art. Learning the Australian and Turkish stories gave a human face and an intimacy to the countless acts of sacrifice and heroism on both sides.
More sobering still is the realisation that the lives commemorated by The Descendants Project are a mere twenty out of the hundreds of thousands who fought at Gallipoli.
The Descendants Project exhibition is at The Rocks Discovery Museum (3rd floor) Sydney, 10 April – 3 May 2015