Recently we got the opportunity to visit an exhibition of prolific war activist and unofficial documenter Peter Kennard’s, most influential designs, staged at the Imperial War museum in Lambeth, South London. The work on show was a mixture of anarchic war protests and more traditional fine-art depictions of the atrocities of war.
One aspect of the exhibition that I really enjoyed, was that it allowed the viewer to see both the anti-war collages in their raw state as well as in the context of the newspaper and magazine covers for which they were intended. At first, I found the concept of this anti-war art being shown and celebrated in a museum which essentially glorifies some aspects of war, to be somewhat absurd, but on reflection I realise that this is the perfect place to display this type of work. My reason for saying this is that I feel like this exhibition allows the museum to attract a new audience of young, politically aware and engaged individuals that perhaps would not normally be inclined to visit the IWM.
What did the exhibition try to do?
This exhibition aims to evoke strong feelings about war, conflict and the ongoing financial powers controlling military action. It attempts to enlighten visitors to the museum of some facts that may have previously been concealed from the public, such as supplying the business cards of various arms companies involved with the Iraq and Syrian wars.
How is it effective?
The shock factor definitely plays an important role in ensuring that this exhibition is effective – without it, no feeling or emotions are stirred, rendering the art ineffectual.
What strategies does he use?
By taking his work out of its ‘natural’ or intended environment and situating it in a gallery space, the work has somewhat more of an impact because it does not have to compete with other ambient pieces. For example, a typical piece of design activism could be located on a street or on a front cover of a magazine, and therefore to be see, the designs have to be more crude and shout louder than the rest in order to be seen. Therefore, when taken out of context, these pieces are so forceful and arresting.
What mediums does he use?
Kennard uses a range of different mediums:
Like many activists, Kennard tends to use materials that are readily available and cheap to acquire, but in my opinion his most effective pieces are the subversive collages that he creates. By combining images from popular culture with highly graphic war articles (bullets, gasmasks etc.), he established his work within our current reality and therefore brings it to the forefront of our consciousness.