Oh, Canada – A Lament stands as one of the most powerful war paintings of our times. It is a tribute to the Canadian soldiers who died during the Afghanistan mission, and a reminder that too often war is measured by numbers rather than by faces and names. With Oh, Canada – A Lament, Joanne Tod provides viewers with portraits of the enlisted who served and died during the longest military mission in Canadian history, and where each soldier is seen as an individual, revealing their age, gender, hair colour, as well as their facial expressions. Painted on 6 x 5-inch birch panels, their faces offer a glimpse of the person behind the uniform. Each is titled by name, rank and battalion.

The motivation behind the project was both political and personal. James Tod, her uncle, served and died as a private in the Second World War, and she knew him only through pictures found among family documents.

In an article published in Border Crossing, Tod noted: “He was an unknown soldier to me, and it’s the same thing with the people I’m painting now. I’ve never met them, but when I see their photographs, I feel as if I’ve known them a little bit.” The 159 portraits that make up the entire installation are presented in a grid and interspersed with red and white panels that piece together to suggest a fragmented Canadian flag.

Originally shown in Toronto at the Art Gallery at Harbourfront in 2011, the project has since traveled to other museums. Family members of the soldiers have asked to purchase individual portraits of their loved ones, but Tod has kept the work intact in honour of their collective military service and sacrifice for their country.
Oh, Canada – A Lament is currently available for exhibition.

Soldier Project. One of her best-known projects is Oh, Canada – A Lament. Between 2007 and 2011, Tod documented Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan mission by painting every soldier who fell during that period, using their obituary photo as a visual source.
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