Blowing off the dust
May 11, 2012

 One of Jessica Wiebe drawings in the "Dust Series."

When Jessica Wiebe looks back at her 2008 tour of duty in Afghanistan, her memories sometimes seem dust-covered and blurry.

But since becoming a student at NSCAD—she just finished her Foundation year—she’s been able to remember that life-changing experience with greater clarity through drawing.

And now those pen-and-ink drawings have been accepted into a national art competition for emerging artists called Defining Moments. Organized by, the art exhibition will tour this summer to venues in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax.

“I want people to see the everyday, banal moments of a soldier’s life,” reflects Jessica, 24, from Brandon, Manitoba. She was just 20 years old when she went to Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces. “There is so much regiment and routine. And a lot of time is simply spent waiting: sitting in a tower, washing laundry, reading, playing video games, watching movies, smoking and joking—just waiting for our next set of orders.”

And yet there was more: the fallen friends, the ramp ceremonies, patrolling roads mined with danger. “I think I’ve buried things pretty deep inside and I think these drawings are my way of pulling them to the surface.”

The artworks are loose and gestural pen and ink washes—“squiggle drawings,” she calls them. They are grey in tone, reflecting both the literal dust of Afghanistan and those hazy recollections. She made the faces of the soldiers deliberately enigmatic, even though they are of comrades. They could be your neighbors, they could be your friends—those anonymous Canadians who made a decision to put their lives on the line for a cause.

“I would rather create a body of work that has meaning than have it be aesthetically pleasing,” explains Jessica. “I want these images to be raw and carry the emotion and weight that our soldiers carry on a daily basis through their deployments as well as when they return home.”

Following her tour of duty, Jessica spent a year working and another year travelling—to New Zealand where she picked up painting again, and Bali, where she joined in a life drawing class. Back in Canada, she decided to she’d like to study visual art at university and set her sights on NSCAD.

“NSCAD has pushed my creativity, both in a personal and an artistic sense,” says Jessica, who says she is supported and encouraged at NSCAD. In particular, she singles out Foundation instructor Ian McKinnon who was the first person she showed her drawings to and who urged her to continue. “He’s one of those rare teachers where everyone in the class feels like he’s teaching just you.”

Now she aspires to become an official Canadian War Artist.

“I’d love to go back to Afghanistan, not as a soldier but as an artist … and if not Afghanistan, wherever Canadian soldiers go next.”

 Jessie Wiebe portrays herself in the figure to the left.