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Features / May 29, 2008

Matilda Aslizadeh: Child Soldiers, Born and Made

Matilda Aslizadeh Imagined Still 13 2008

Rarely a day goes by when war does not dominate national and international news headlines. Ironically, the leaden emotional weight of omnipresent conflicts, casualties and political maneuverings has the dangerous tendency for an overall numbing effect on an untouched public conscience. Too often, war stories remain abstracted to foreign events in faraway places easily forgotten with a turn of the page or a change of the channel.

This personal and physical distancing is exactly why it is crucial to reconsider the hard-hitting truths of war from other points of view. The exhibition “Hero of Our Time” by Vancouver artist Matilda Aslizadeh offers just such an opportunity. The title work is a 19-minute video projection that plays out the fictional rise and fall of a child soldier named Hero. On the one hand, it is a tragic coming of age story. As part of a child militia that operates in the familiar yet unfamiliar forests of an unnamed “other” country, Hero’s world quickly unravels as his paramilitary indoctrination gives way the eye-opening truths of rape, pillage and killing. In true existential form, Hero’s age of reason also marks the beginning of his demise. By breaking the narrative with trenchant accounts from actual child soldiers found on the Internet, Aslizadeh charges her fictional platform with the scarred intensity of real-life tragedies.

But Aslizadeh’s story also treads on the grounds of classical myth. The child soldiers are constantly reminded by their commanders that they have been chosen to inherit a “golden age” created by a benevolent god who raped a mortal woman. That female figure hovers in the background as the troubled mother figure to these children. With the interspersed addition of video footage showing God’s-eye views of “precision bombing,” Aslizadeh offers a telling reminder of the ongoing contradictions of human histories and belief systems founded in violent beginnings and ends. (254 Niagara St., Toronto, ON.)