Sara Bevan
Wednesday 20 June 2018

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.

Art

1. With Singing Hearts and Throaty Roarings, Jock McFadyen

Art

1. With Singing Hearts and Throaty Roarings, Jock McFadyen

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

A series of figures, with only their heads and shoulders visible, are gathered together at a dockside with a warship recently returned from the Falklands looming over them in the background. There is a coffin covered with a British Union Jack flag amongst them, juxtaposed with the hands of some of the figures making victory signs. In the centre, a soldier and a woman kiss and embrace after being reunited. They are surrounded by the heads of eight other people.
With Singing Hearts and Throaty Roarings, 1983, by Jock McFadyen. © The artist.
Art

2. Queen and Country, Steve McQueen

Art

2. Queen and Country, Steve McQueen

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.

Wooden stamp cabinet on metal legs with 120 double-sided wooden sliders in which are displayed 136 prints in the form of sheets of stamps featuring portrait photograph images of British military personnel who died on active service in Iraq.
Queen and Country, 2006, by Steve McQueen. © Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.

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.

Art

3. Mounds, Paul Seawright

Art

3. Mounds, Paul Seawright

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

In 2002, IWM commissioned Paul Seawright to respond to the War in Afghanistan. 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. He says that he had‘always been fascinated by the invisible, the unseen, the subject matter that doesn't easily present itself to the camera.
Mounds, 2002, by Paul Seawright. © Paul Seawright.
Art

4. Vital Signs, Ori Gersht

Art

4. Vital Signs, Ori Gersht

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

From the series 'AfterWars'. 1 from edition of 5. Framed. image: A swimming pool, crowded with bathers and spectators. In the foreground below the pool's retaining wall is an area of waste land, and behind the pool is a main road with high concrete retaining walls, zig-zagging up a steep hill.
Vital Signs, 1999, by Ori Gersht. © Ori Gersht.
Art

5. The Last Soviet, Kerry Tribe

Art

5. The Last Soviet, Kerry Tribe

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.

Single screen projection with sound. Consists of 1 USB drive containing the large Quicktime master, 1 Bluray master and one viewing copy (CD ROM). See file for installation description.
The Last Soviet (still), 2010, by Kerry Tribe. © Kerry Tribe.

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

Art

6. The Visitation, Peter de Francia

Art

6. The Visitation, Peter de Francia

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.

four soldiers lie and sit underneath a shelter made of camouflaged sheeting to the left, three of the men sleeping. The fourth, writing a letter, stares in disbelief at a figure on the right, who brandishes a skull taken from a basket that he carries, filled with several other skulls. The figure is anonymous, as his head is comprised of shapes rather than a head.
The Visitation, 1989, by Peter de Francia. © IWM.

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

Art

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

Art

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

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.

1 DVD master of 'Loyalists' and 1 DVD master of 'Republicans' and 1 digi-beta master of 'Loyalists' and 1 digi-beta master of 'Republicans'.1 DVD version showing the films side by side as viewing copy. Certificate of authenticity signed by artist.
Scots-Irish/Irish-Scots (still), 2011, by Roderick Buchanan. © Roderick Buchanan.

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 Scotsconsists 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

Art

8. Two Blue Car Doors, Bill Woodrow

Art

8. Two Blue Car Doors, Bill Woodrow

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

a blue car door, with the exterior surface cut away, is mounted on the wall. An AK-47 machine-gun (simulation) hangs suspended from a metal ribbon which has been cut out of the material from the door. Another ribbon of metal runs from the gun to another door lying on the ground. This door is placed with the exterior to the ground and has the interior cut away.
Two Blue Car Doors, 1981, by Bill Woodrow. © Bill Woodrow.

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