Caught in the Crossfire: Artistic Responses to Conflict, Peace and Reconciliation , is an exhibition currently being held at The Herbert in Coventry . It is featuring artists both past and present and exploring their responses to War and how they make a stand for peace. It features artists such as Banksy, Kennard Phillips, Peter Howson and Simon Norfolk to name but a few.
Conflict has long shaped the human landscape and artists have used art as a medium of protest and demonstration against Governments and political leadership. This exhibition shows how artists have responded to both historical and contemporary conflicts taking place both home and abroad.
I should start by saying that Coventry is the perfect place in which to hold such an exhibition, suffering terribly during the Blitz in November 1940 and rebuilding itself to become a City of reconciliation and friendship. Indeed the exhibition starts with work by John Piper depicting the burnt out Coventry Cathedral, the burnt out ruins now an enduring symbol of human resilience in the face of conflict, the new Cathedral rising Phoenix like from the ashes.
This forms the start of the exhibition, leading you through several perspectives and themes. You travel from Blitzed City to Front line to The Machines of War, showing the architecture and designs of war in work such as Cornelia Parker’s Embryo Firearms, a sculptural depiction of the tools of warfare.
The lines of division takes you through a journey depicting the affect that conflict has on the human landscape . The human cost and toll. Displaced families, towns, Cities and even Nations are caused by War. Peter Howson’s Snow Road refers to the millions of people who were displaced by the ethnic cleansing carried out during the Bosnian war . Howson himself was the Official War Painter during the War for the British Military.
This painting struck a cord with me, I was a teenager during the time of the Bosnian conflict and I remember the news reports of ethnic cleansing and being horrified that this kind of thing still went on, that humanity had not learnt from history and the genocide carried out by the Nazi’s during WW2. The fact that something like this could happen so close to home was chilling.
The exhibition forces the viewer to confront their feeling towards War, making you have an opinion , rather than just being a casual observer. The exhibits are in a range of media, traditional art, photography and manipulation and video pieces come together with a common theme.
You are then led to the Protest area in which I found Kennard Phillips exhibits to be particularity hard-hitting. As a viewer I know the image of The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a “selfie” in front of the burning oil field to be manipulated. This didn’t happen in reality but knowing what we know about the first Gulf War, it doesn’t require much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that this could have been a reality.
The pieces of work within this section point towards the absurdity of conflict and the political nature of it. Making us question what exactly constitutes a just war.
The final stage of the exhibition is Aftermath, showing that even after terrible occurrences such as the Blitz on Coventry, people are able to rebuild and reconcile differences. It is a natural conclusion after making your way through the exhibition . Providing proof that there is hope to be had in almost every hopeless situation.
I found this exhibition to be very hard hitting and it really made me feel sadness towards the futility of war, the loss of life , brother fighting brother. Despite this, it left me with a feeing that one day, perhaps the human race can start to remember these events and learn from them. There is another way.
The exhibition runs at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum until Sunday 7th July.
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- Jordan Well,