By Stephen Dafoe
Legal – With its Salute to Protective Services theme, this year’s Fête au Village was the perfect opportunity to unveil the town’s 33rd mural, particularly since it pays homage to Canada’s military in general and bilingual Canadian peacekeeper Roméo Dallaire in particular.
The eight-foot by 20-foot mural, painted by Jacques Martel and unveiled Saturday morning, will be eventually installed near the town’s tourist booth, part of a proposed art park of Francophone murals.
But unlike Legal’s previous 32 pieces of art, this latest offering is graphic in its treatment of the subject, pulling no punches when illustrating the realities of war. Nor does it cower or shy from making a political statement or two.
Ernie Chauvet of L’Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta régionale Centralta said the motivation behind the current mural was to recognize Legal’s proximity to the base and the fact that the town has many military families.
“We chose to present them Roméo Dallaire. First, because our mandate is a Francophone mandate and Roméo Dallaire is fully bilingual,” Chauvet said, adding that the mural also recognizes the number of immigrants coming into Alberta from Africa, particularly French Africa. “So we want also to recognize them.”
To combine those elements into one mural, Chauvet said the decision was made to focus on the Rwandan Genocide.
“There’s some pretty strong pictures in here,” Chauvet said of Martel’s mural, adding the Canadian Forces have experienced difficult experiences in Darfur, Haiti and Bosnia. “To proper represent if it’s only the positive, do people really know what it’s like? So we have a negative, but also we bring hope. And they have done that.”
One political element of the painting is depicted in the bottom half of the first two panels. It shows an American soldier walking in the burning oil fields of Kuwait. Chauvet said the scene is meant to ask the open question about American motivations for Iraq.
“The first American invasion of Iraq was the same time as genocide,” Chauvet said, adding that when genocide was happening in Africa they didn’t go. “There’s a tie in to natural resources. For very little labour, for a few more thousand troops, both of the genocides – we wouldn’t have had it. But there was no oil there.”
The task of presenting the Rwandan story from genocide to the rebuilding of the country, as well as Dallaire’s involvement in the process fell upon Legal artist Jacques Martel. The artist, who works largely in the photo realism style, was drawn to the project by a love of history, and family connections to the subject.
“My dad was a military man and also I had an aunt that was a teacher in that area for 40 years,” Martel said, adding that his aunt taught in Uganda and Tanzania. “I kind of like history. I like geography – anything with Africa. I’ve always been amazed by that continent as a kid.”
Martel said it took approximately 300 hours to complete the painting, once he had the concept in his mind.
“I didn’t come up with the idea overnight,’ he said. “It’s sort of a piecemeal thing as I think about it. Ernie puts the thought in my head and within a month I have it all figured out. Even as I’m doing it, I get ideas.”
Martel said his passion for art began in high school in the 1970s, but his foray into mural painting began about a decade ago when Chauvet asked him to do one. But whatever he is painting, Martel’s work carries a sense of realism.
“I’m more of a photo realist more than an imaginative, expressionist type painter,” he said. “I tell it like it is. There’s not much for you to figure out. It’s right there for you to see. That’s how I approach my art.”
VIDEO FOOTAGE OF PRESENTATION