Review of Truth and Memory at The Imperial War Museum

This is a fascinating exhibition featuring some of the most famous images from British war artists in World War I. The pictures so much inform our idea of how trench warfare was that it is difficult to imagine how shocking they must have been to their first audience. Futurism with its subtext of ‘humanity subsumed by the machinery of war’ [IWM text] produced pictures which vibrate with anger and despair and their titles punctuate that purpose with an exclamation mark! Nash’s desolate landscape entitled ‘We are making a bright new world’ or Nevinson’s bleak painting of dead soldiers, ‘Paths of Glory’, are raw with emotion and were even occasionally banned by the ministry as unhelpful propaganda. The relationship between war artists¬†and government has to be an uneasy one – that would make a fascinating dissertation topic…which is a particularly interesting point in the context of the exhibition, which separates in different rooms works of ‘truth’ and works of ‘memory’. I preferred the ‘Truth’ section as it felt more directly from the experience of war but how much is my taste governed by the fact that our contemporary culture values the instant, the immediate rather than the mature and considered reflection of ‘memory’?

I absolutely recommend a visit if you get a chance. It raises all kinds of questions and, as with the best exhibitions, doesn’t provide any of the answers. Personal favourites were a series called ‘Dance of Death’ by Percy Delf Smith. Finishes 8 March.

 

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