From playing cowboys and Indians to water pistols, children seem to naturally gravitate to 'playing war', but is it behaviour that should be discouraged? Does it encourage violence and glorify war?
These are the big questions with which this exhibition opens, before running through a history of war toys from cut-out soldiers during the Boer War to a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It's a fascinating evolution to chart, and we see the various ways in which messages were inserted into toys — though it leaves it to the visitor to decide whether it's propaganda or patriotism. There is scale model of the Hitler's limousine and a child-sized military uniform, which is still manufactured by the Ministry of Defence. The show even delves into futuristic wars and superheroes who, though fictional, were clearly inspired by the politics of the time.
Though it never attempts to answer the philosophical questions laid out at the beginning, there's still much of interest. It can, however, be very text-heavy at times and is therefore more likely to appeal more to adults than children. There is a missed opportunity in that the show never asks children's views on whether any of the propaganda/patriotism of the toys filters down to them or whether they simply see the toys as fun objects to play with.
In the museum foyer is a haunting collection of photographs and videos depicting a ghostly child with a red balloon wandering around a deserted Pripyat — a town abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster — in the snow . It's chilling to see books still laid open in classrooms and a defunct ferris wheel looming over a snowy landscape.
Hana Vojackova's addition of the child and a tinkling music box soundtrack to the desolate environs, makes for a creepy and captivating installation.