A Painter Changes Perceptions of the People of Afghanistan

Reportage illustrator George Butler was a formal guest of the British Army with the purpose of documenting the war in Afghanistan through painting.

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In 2014, the US and British forces officially ended their military operations in Afghanistan. And so, after thirteen years of foreign occupation, Afghanistan has begun to restore its normal way of life. Directed by Tim Brown, “Withdraw” gives a refreshing take on how a different form of documentation can provide a new outlook on one of the most polarizing wars in American history.

Reportage illustrator George Butler was a formal guest of the British Army with the purpose of documenting the war through his paintings. His initial arrival in the Middle East, nearly eight years ago, opened a highly secluded experience within the security of an army base. He remained, however, fully cognizant of the everyday life that was taking place right outside those walls. He set out to return to the country to properly document the Afghan people, whom he saw as “amazingly friendly and resilient people just carrying on.”

Butler acknowledges the camera’s ability to capture brilliant images of the same locations, but believes that a painting can be just as engaging. “I think you get an emotional connection with a drawing or a painting”, he explains. “That you knew someone was there and that it’s just as much about their experience and opinion as it just about recording the scene.”

He remembers being told not to make the trip. “Everyone I spoke to said, ‘Don’t go, it’s too dangerous.’ The only thing you see are the things you read in the papers and see on the news.” But for him, life in Afghanistan painted another picture. “Actually, when you arrive you find these guys… [they’re] very happy to have you sit and draw.”

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