Focussing on the wide-ranging theme of loss and absence, this exhibition provides a moving ‘portrait’ of loss during the First World War on the Australian home front. Powerful symbolic images, including contemporary works, evoke the emotional intensity of loss. All that fall: Sacrifice, life and loss in the First World War is the National Portrait Gallery’s contribution to the Anzac Centenary.
The dead were buried far from home. Most graves would never be visited by the immediate family. In this series by Canberra-based artist Lee Grant, the absence of the non-returned is evoked in spare and haunting landscape photographs devoid of figures.
"All that fall reminds us that perhaps Australians never mourned so deeply as they did in the later years of the First World War and its aftermath. Because bodies were not returned to their homes for burial, the grief was sometimes bitter and desperate enough to drive people mad. We would now say it was hard for them to reach closure, but the concept of closure is inadequate because nothing can ever fully reconcile us to the death of those we love; nothing can abate the mystery that a human personality has disappeared. The mystery of death is inseparable from our affirmation that human beings are irreplaceable and precious – precious to some particular people, of course, but also precious, period. That, I suspect, rather than fear of death, is the deepest impulse to believe in an afterlife. Nonetheless, though it does so inadequately, the idea of closure gestures towards our need to be able to consent to our grief without resentment or bitterness that would poison our souls." (Raymond Gaita, 2015)