Peter Kennard On The Harsh Realities Of War At Imperial War Museum

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 38 months ago
Peter Kennard On The Harsh Realities Of War At Imperial War Museum ★★★★☆ 4
Constable's Haywain now carries missiles. Copyright Peter Kennard
Constable's Haywain now carries missiles. Copyright Peter Kennard
Charcoal hands claw at the pages of indecipherable statistics that represent the businesses that keep the poor downtrodden.
Charcoal hands claw at the pages of indecipherable statistics that represent the businesses that keep the poor downtrodden.
An oil explosion show how we're plundering the Earth for its resources. Copyright Peter Kennard
An oil explosion show how we're plundering the Earth for its resources. Copyright Peter Kennard
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These banners open the exhibition and the hooded figure indicates this isn't a show for the faint hearted. Copyright Peter Kennard
Skeletons appear throughout Kennard's work. Copyright Peter Kennard
Skeletons appear throughout Kennard's work. Copyright Peter Kennard
Warhead 1, Peter Kenard (c) the artist
Gas masks are also a recurring motif as the dehumanised face of war. Copyright Peter Kennard

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Peter Kennard was half of the team behind the infamous image of Tony Blair taking a selfie in front of an explosion. Through his art Kennard has campaigned consistently for peace and decreasing the gap between rich and poor in the world, and now he has a retrospective at the Imperial War Museum.

The show opens with four banners featuring shredded US and UK flags, a hooded captive and a helmet with a tally of kills — it's a clear sign that what follows won't be easy viewing.

There are several of Kennard's trademark surreal juxtapositions such as John Constable's The Hay Wain carrying missiles, and a skeleton crowned by a mushroom cloud. Many of these have a lasting visual impact — an old Labour party poster features a hand crushing a missile and the G8 is depicted as players around a poker table with nuclear missiles as chips.

Another powerful series shows hands clawing at pages filled with statistics of share prices. Though indecipherable to most, they are the numbers that drive the corporate world and are shown here as the cause of much of the poverty and the inequality in the world.

This exhibition is filled with posters, newspaper clippings and books, but the most shocking revelations are saved for the end. A room filled with work is also peppered with terrifying statistics such as an estimated 262 million people who have been killed by their own governments in the 20th century and 11 nuclear missiles that have been lost and never recovered by the US.

We're the first to acknowledge there are wider issues within the thorny subject of war than set out in Peter Kennard's clear anti-war stance. However, this exhibition is an important reminder of the cost of war in lives and suffering, a cost we're largely sheltered from in our daily lives.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is on at Imperial War Museum until 30 May 2016. Entrance is free and it's open daily 10am-6pm.

Last Updated 18 May 2015