UK: art exhibition on Iraq war


Bush, big media and the Iraq war, cartoon

From British daily The Morning Star:

Iraq war: A vital theme

(Monday 04 June 2007)

EXHIBITION: Memorial to the Iraq War
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London SW1

After its conspicuous absence from the mainstream, anti-war art has finally found a platform at the ICA. CHRISTINE LINDEY says it’s about time.

The ICA asked a number of artists to make proposals for a memorial to the Iraq war.

The catalogue explains that the exhibition’s theme “may seem strange, arrogant or offensive,” given that the war is not over, but that envisaging the future would perhaps lead to new insights from artists and public, many of whom may have become complacent about this long-running conflict.

Artists and their institutions have been too silent about this war and there is a need for artists to consider how history might judge Britain’s part in it.

The ICA was not looking for a definite memorial, but to encourage debate, both about the war and about the concept of a memorial.

Only one proposal is for a conventional monument. Michael Patterson-Carver’s coloured drawing, which he envisages being made into a statue, depicts members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War massed in a demonstration.

Mostly amputees, they face us with banners demanding: “Lick the Bushies Out” and “25,000 casualties later, where are the WMDs?”

The artist explains that they are all smiling because “they are confident of success.”

A long-time political activist and homeless person, his work is only here because the US “insider” artist Harrell Fletcher discovered him displaying his political protest drawings on a city pavement and used his own ICA commission as a means of giving Patterson-Carver access to a wider public.

Fletcher suggests that the drawing would work well if made from metal and painted. He’s right.

It would look great in Parliament Square.

Other artists are equally direct and angry. Afghani artist Lida Abdul reminds us of the reverberations of the September 11 2001 attacks on other countries, including his own, by displaying 10 postcards of anonymous ruined buildings, schools, libraries and mosques.

US artist Sam Durant’s photo montages propose multiple monuments consisting of stacking the twisted and burned shells of cars and military hardware outside the White House and the Houses of Parliament to the point of eventually burying the seats of power under the destruction which their occupants have caused.

Some argue that protest art is best left to the graphic designers and film-makers, who are specialists in getting direct messages across in our media-saturated age.

That kind of art can be more useful as a vehicle for elliptical, discursive or contemplative statements which allow for multilayered ideas and allusions for addressing important but less urgent issues than those tackled by agit-prop.

Iraqi artist Jalal Toufic’s conceptual work explores the cultural and political resonances of the British Library having had to refuse an Iraqi research student’s request for photocopied material because of trade sanctions on Iraq imposed by the British government.

His complex work reminds us of the intellectual isolation caused by the war.

The Egyptian Iman Issa’s video takes the war’s representation as its subject and questions the cliches perpetuated by the mass media.

The most memorable image of the war, she says, are not dramatic filmed explosions, but the still photograph of one tiny boy standing on a ruined wall unseen by a US soldier clutching his gun in combat stance in the street beneath.

In an unknowing act of protest, the toddler urinates placidly in an elegant arch onto the soldier’s helmet below.

The US artist Sean Snyder creates a deceptively calm environment by wallpapering one of the ICA’s upper rooms in a repeated pattern based on the complex geometry of traditional Islamic tiles. But look more closely and you discover that motifs within these patterns show the White House and other motifs from US dollar and British pound notes.

Snyder writes that his “forced hybrid … alludes to the imperial effort to inscribe economic and ideological power to an occupied society.”

Only some of the proposals could be realised, so that much of what we see takes the shape of initial ideas – preparatory drawings, collages, photomontages and wall texts. This offers us a chance to see working processes and to understand sometimes complex connections and ideas.

It also asks that we use our imaginations to envisage sometimes visually dry proposals as fully created works.

For example, imagine the transformation of a familiar city park or space into a field of white poppies guarded by silent women in black.

Its stark beauty is difficult to convey in Croatian Sanja Ivekovic’s image and text proposal for an installation-performance. However, the use of text does allow her to bring to public notice the history of the international Women in Black peace movement.

The catalogue is free and its cover is by the Irish artist Liam Gillick, who uses the commission to bring factual information about the casualties and deaths caused by the war to attention

The organisers write that the wider public tends to view contemporary art as hermetic. They wanted to show that it can be politically and socially engaged, albeit sometimes in oblique ways.

These are laudable intentions. While some viewers may indeed find the form of some works difficult to relate to, the exhibition’s anti-war subject matter is unequivocal and this may well reach an audience which normally avoids anything “political.” It is good to see a major art institution tackling this vital theme.

Shows until June 27. Box office: (020) 7930-3647.

See also here.

3 thoughts on “UK: art exhibition on Iraq war

  1. Pingback: Artists against the Iraq war | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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