The Imperial War Museum held Peter Kennard’s exhibition in celebration of 50 years of his influential work. Kennard’s career began in 1968 in the revolt against status quo. During this he abandoned painting to create a stronger political and social impact through other forms of media. Describing his work as an attempt to “rip apart the smooth, bleached and apparently seamless surface of the media’s presentation of the world and to expose the conflict and grubby reality underneath.” Exploring poverty, human rights, mass media, the nuclear arms race and the Iraq War 2003-2011 Kennard is referred to as ‘Britain’s most important political artist and leading practitioner of photomontage’. Hearing this I was intrigued to see his exhibition which he had restored himself.
Consisting of four rooms the exhibition began with six of his 18 paintings for Decoration (2003 – 2004). All six depicted medals with ribbons, torn and dirty with the UK and America’s flags. National flags are tarnished due to these actions, tolerance, equality and values of democracy which are held dear to the nostalgic countries are tarnished with it. Instead of medals the ribbons bare the tangled bodies of dead soldiers and the helmet of an American soldier – proudly displaying his number of kills listed in fives. Decoration 8 depicts a hooded figure hanging beneath the ribbon clasp to remind Kennard’s audience of the prisoner abuse by US troops in Abu Ghraib jail. Though these paintings where striking, with clear influences from Francis Bacon and Rembrandt, I found they lacked strength due to their presentation. These six paintings where lined up and lent against the wall perhaps like soldiers in procession? I personally found that if they were hung up on the wall it would have made a much stronger impact on the viewer.
The Reading Room (1997) was created following the Cold War in the early 1990’s, when new approaches to experimental art work became popular, particularly 3D works. It was the dawn of New Global Power and “New World Order”. The Reading Room contained rows of twenty one heavy, dark wooden lecterns, with newspaper clippings on display. Inspired by his memories of Paddington Library as a child, when the daily newspaper would be on display for everyone to see, Kennard displays the financial pages on a Global scale. Placed over the numbers and columns are faces, worked into the paper with charcoal, it appears as though the faces and numbers merge into stock market figures. Each face, with individually striking features of different nationalities had piercing eyes. The use of numbers suggests that wars are just series of statistics, but by placing the face over all the numbers the viewer is forced to come to terms that their are human lives involved in a non-detached way, as in from behind a tv screen.
Leaving this exhibition, I felt as though it could have been displayed in a more effective way. However, in saying this, it still left me with a strong feeling of sadness and disgust. Not by Kennards’ work, please don’t mistake me, but the strong messages and issues he has conveyed with in his work. The shocking statistics and horrifying images fitted with in his work really had an affect on me for a while.
Cumming, Laura (2015) Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist review – the King of Political Montage
Imperial War Museum (2015) Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist
Available at: http://www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/peter-kennard-unofficial-war-artist