Launceston artist Leoni Duff finally has her war painting hanging in the Pentagon

Home Arts Launceston artist Leoni Duff finally has her war painting hanging in the Pentagon
Launceston artist Leoni Duff finally has her war painting hanging in the Pentagon

Four years after Launceston artist Leoni Duff was invited to submit a painting for an exhibition in the Pentagon, her work is finally on display.

“There’s been quite a long wait to actually get this exhibition happening,” she said of the works on show at the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense.

“So, there were times when I thought, ‘OK, it probably won’t happen’.”

Negotiations for The Kangaroo and the Eagle exhibition began two US administrations and one pandemic ago, Duff explained.

All the while she has had to remain secretive about it.

“We’ve had to be quiet about it until we got the go-ahead … from the Pentagon that the exhibition was on, and that it’s on indefinitely.”

Despite the wait, Duff did not realise the significance of having contributed to the exhibition until recently.

“It’s dawning on me a little that it’s really a great big thing,” she said.

A woman working at an easel, her back to the camera, paintbrushes in the foreground.
Painting for exhibitions gives Duff a chance to test her creative ideas.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)

Moments of kindness in war

Duff was first approached about contributing to The Kangaroo and the Eagle by University of Tasmania gallery director Malcom Bywaters.

“He and a friend … were putting together an exhibition about the relationship between Australia and the United States during times of conflict,” Duff said.

She was encouraged to submit a proposal for a painting about the Battle of Buna-Gona, which was fought in what is now Papua New Guinea, during World War II.

“I have to say I wasn’t particularly interested in the actual conflict,” Duff said.

“But I [am] very interested in the way people respond to each other during conflict.

“And particularly the tender moments, the kind things that happen during times of war.”

A collection of different coloured pastels in a box.
Duff strives to create work that is “poetic and powerful”.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)

Duff says her finished painting, which depicts two American soldiers caring for an injured Australian soldier, shows “exactly that”.

“I took out all the jungle and all the war and put them on a stone slab suspended in the sky, so you’re looking at the men, and at that really tender moment,” she said.

Art and international relations

Duff is one of four Tasmanian artists, and among 17 Australian and American artists to have work in The Kangaroo and the Eagle exhibition.

“This is quite a large exhibition, [one] that takes up the whole exhibition space in the Pentagon,” Duff explained.

Paintings hanging on the walls in a very corporate looking building.
The Kangaroo and Eagle exhibition speaks of the importance of having friends in war and peace.(Supplied: United States Department of Defense)

Art, including the works in The Kangaroo exhibition, plays a role in improving relations between nations, Ms Duff believes.

“I think art has a great function … to open peoples’ eyes and help them understand, and build those bridges that we need,” she said.

“I feel very strongly about the beauty of art, and the way it can tell stories that words can’t necessarily express.”

Duff said the feeling of contributing, while in a “tiny” way, to the combined defence forces of the US and Australia, had struck her just last week.

“This great big ship, a [US] aircraft carrier, docked in Hobart over the weekend, and a couple of my sons went down to look at it,” she said.

“They said it was half the size of the CBD of Hobart —  really massive,”

“Then I thought ‘OK, I’ve got my little painting over there in the Pentagon —  that’s pretty amazing actually.”

“It’s humbling and it’s a lovely honour.”

A woman kneeling on the floor while she looks at a large streetscape painting.
Duff says great art changes the way its audience thinks.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)

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