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8 Powerful Works From Our Contemporary Art Collection

Since the mid 1970s IWM has collected and commissioned contemporary artists' personal, political and conceptual responses to conflict. This has resulted in a diverse and challenging collection of artwork, the highlights of which are brought together in a new book, Art from Contemporary Conflict.

The book features over 70 works from this broad-ranging collection, demonstrating the way in which artists can enrich and challenge our perception of modern conflict.

Here is a selection of some of the works featured in Art from Contemporary Conflict, which is available now in our shop.

  • 1. With Singing Hearts and Throaty Roarings, by Jock McFadyen

    <em>With Singing Hearts and Throaty Roarings</em>, 1983, by Jock McFadyen. © The artist.
    With Singing Hearts and Throaty Roarings, 1983, by Jock McFadyen. © The artist.
    Art.IWM ART 16248

    The title of McFadyen's work gives a feverish nationalist soundtrack with which to view his painting of the return of a Falklands battleship. The bow of the ship can be seen above the quayside throng, hung with bunting, but just below this is a coffin draped in the Union Jack, reminding us of the human cost of the war. Despite the fact that two 'victory Vs' can be seen above the crowd, their mood does not appear to reflect the enthusiasm of McFadyen's title. The painting evokes a sense of empty excess, critical of the surge in bombastic patriotism and the aggressively nationalist rhetoric surrounding the conflict. The couple embracing in the centre of the painting look blank and distant, while others look shocked, angry or confused.

    Oil and collage on card

  • 2. Queen and Country, by Steve McQueen

    <em>Queen and Country</em>, 2006, by Steve McQueen. © Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.
    Queen and Country, 2006, by Steve McQueen. © Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.
    Art.IWM ART 17290

    Queen and Country is a work that commemorates the individual British service personnel who died during the Iraq War, but also questions ideas of sacrifice, community and nationhood. The work takes the form of a large sarcophagus-like oak stamp cabinet, which viewers can open to reveal sheets of facsimile stamps, each bearing a portrait of a service man or woman killed in Iraq. McQueen was commissioned by IWM in 2003 and visited Iraq shortly afterwards to research ideas for a work. Best known as a filmmaker, McQueen was frustrated by the limited opportunities to film in Basra due to the deteriorating security situation. He wanted to find an alternative means to respond to the conflict. He was particularly struck by the camaraderie of the troops and sought a way to pay tribute to this. McQueen hoped that eventually the portraits, selected by the families of the deceased, would be issued as stamps and, as he states, 'enter the lifeblood of the country'.

    Mixed media installation
    Commissioned by the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum. Presented by the Art Fund.

  • 3. Mounds, by Paul Seawright

    <em>Mounds</em>, 2002, by Paul Seawright. © Paul Seawright.
    Mounds, 2002, by Paul Seawright. © Paul Seawright.
    Art.IWM ART 16793

    In 2002 IWM commissioned Paul Seawright to respond to the war in Afghanistan, which had started the previous October. Building on his previous work, he was interested in how an artist might engage with conflict in a way that was different to the dramatic spectacles of photojournalism. The resulting photographs of minefields show a seemingly empty landscape, which in reality is both lethal and inaccessible. Seawright says that he had 'always been fascinated by the invisible, the unseen, the subject matter that doesn't easily present itself to the camera'. In contrast to the photojournalist's urge to capture a dramatic moment, Seawright's work attempts to photograph the invisible, to evoke a sense of the longer term reverberations of war.

    Cibachrome print
    Commissioned by the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

  • 4. Vital Signs, by Ori Gersht

    <em>Vital Signs</em>, 1999, by Ori Gersht. © Ori Gersht.
    Vital Signs, 1999, by Ori Gersht. © Ori Gersht.
    Art.IWM ART 16818 3

    London-based Israeli artist Ori Gersht often explores the relationship between history, memory and landscape in his work. Part of a series called Afterwars, Vital Signs is a photograph of Sarajevo taken after the end of the war in Bosnia. The media interest in the conflict was enormous, but had dwindled by the point Gersht arrived. He hoped to explore the longer-term impact of the conflict on the city. The image combines a feeling of optimism with the scars of war. There is mortar damage on the concrete wall above the pool, alluding to the far-reaching repercussions of conflict, but in contrast, the overall feeling is one of rejuvenation, of signs of normal life returning to the city.

    C type print

  • 5. The Last Soviet, by Kerry Tribe

    <em>The Last Soviet</em> (still), 2010, by Kerry Tribe. © Kerry Tribe.
    The Last Soviet (still), 2010, by Kerry Tribe. © Kerry Tribe.
    Art.IWM ART 17578

    The Last Soviet tells the story of Sergei Krikalev, the eponymous 'last Soviet' of Tribe's film, a cosmonaut who was aboard the Mir space station during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Using scenes filmed inside a model of Mir, Tribe re-stages the moment that Krikalev opened a parcel of autumn leaves, supposedly sent to him with a shipment of supplies. This is mixed with archival film, including the footage of Swan Lake that was played on Russian television to conceal news of the final days of the USSR. The voices of two narrators are woven together, suggesting a documentary. However, the timing of these voice-overs and the images are mismatched. We become very aware of the way in which the story is told and constructed. Tribe calls into question the reliability of memory and history. The fluid borders between truth and fiction are laid bare.

    Single channel projection (10 mins 44 secs)
    Commissioned by Modern Art Oxford, Arnolfini, and Camden Art Centre as part of the 3 series: 3 artists/3 places/3 years. Generously donated by the artist and commissioning organisations through the Contemporary Art Society, 2010

  • 6. The Visitation, by Peter de Francia

    <em>The Visitation</em>, 1989, by Peter de Francia. © IWM.
    The Visitation, 1989, by Peter de Francia. © IWM.
    Art.IWM ART 16371

    Peter de Francia was best known for his painting of the The Bombing of Sakiet, an enormous painting of an atrocity during the Algerian War, often compared to Picasso's Guernica or the work of Francisco Goya. However, in later years, it was through large charcoal drawings such as The Visitation that de Francia found his richest form of expression. Often looking at social or political themes, his drawings have the narrative feeling of a myth or folk tale. He was commissioned by IWM in 1988 to produce a work on soldiers and mortality. De Francia had served in the British Army for four years during the Second World War, and this drawing appears to present a fantastical scene suggestive of this period. Is the skull being handed from a basket a portent of the fate that is to befall him, or a consequence of his actions?

    Charcoal and pencil on paper
    Commissioned by the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

  • 7. Scots-Irish/Irish-Scots, by Roderick Buchanan

    <em>Scots-Irish/Irish-Scots</em> (still), 2011, by Roderick Buchanan. © Roderick Buchanan.
    Scots-Irish/Irish-Scots (still), 2011, by Roderick Buchanan. © Roderick Buchanan.
    Art.IWM ART 17576

    Roderick Buchanan's film installation considers the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland following the Good Friday Agreement through the stories of two Scottish flute bands. Irish Republicans and Northern Irish Protestants have always sought and found support in Scotland. During the Troubles, bandsmen from Northern Ireland would travel to Scotland regularly in support of Scotland's major parades. Scottish people in return would do the same for the big parades in Northern Ireland. Scots Irish/Irish Scots consists of two films displayed simultaneously; one side has sound while the other is silent. The films are separated by a partition, the viewer allowed to choose their view. One film follows the Black Skull Corps of Fife and Drum around the walls of Londonderry on the 320th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of city in 1689. The second film follows the Parkhead Republican Flute Band during the annual Easter Rising Parade in Derry, 2010. The work takes a balanced viewpoint, highlighting the ritual and mythologies that each band continues to hold dear.

    Dual screen projection (70 mins)
    Commissioned by the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

  • 8. Two Blue Car Doors, by Bill Woodrow

    <em>Two Blue Car Doors</em>, 1981, by Bill Woodrow. © Bill Woodrow.
    Two Blue Car Doors, 1981, by Bill Woodrow. © Bill Woodrow.
    Art.IWM ART 15493

    In Bill Woodrow's sculptures from this period, something extraordinary happens in the space between two objects. Material is scooped out of everyday items and melded into something new, often creating surreal and sometimes humorous juxtapositions. This sense of the strange may be the viewer's initial experience of Two Blue Car Doors, which is one of two sculptures by Woodrow in our collection. However there is something here that is more acutely telling than with many of the artist's more poetic or lyrical works. Here we see ribbons of metal running between two car doors, fusing to form an AK-47 assault rifle. Within its 1980s context, the sculpture suggests drive-by shootings and perhaps more specifically the sectarian executions of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Two Blue Car Doors continues to resonate strongly today - the vehicle has become a weapon, packed with explosives, a lethal car bomb.

    Car doors, enamel paint