How Has 9/11 Changed The Art World? Find Out In This Stirring Exhibition

Age of Terror, Imperial War Museum ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 79 months ago

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Last Updated 17 November 2017

How Has 9/11 Changed The Art World? Find Out In This Stirring Exhibition Age of Terror, Imperial War Museum 5
Omer Fast's powerful film about drone strikes is haunting. Copyright Omer Fast.

Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about 9/11. The world has changed considerably since two planes brought down the Twin Towers in a horrible act of terrorism.

How have artists responded to these attacks and the events that have followed on over the last 16 years? This is the question being asked by Age of Terror: Art since 9/11, an exhibition at Imperial War Museum.

Grayson Perry altered his pot to feature planes after 9/11. © Grayson Perry / Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London / Photo Stephen Brayne

One of the first works that hits us is immensely sobering — Hans Peter Feldmann presents newspaper front pages from around the world of that fateful day all sporting the same image of the World Trade Center on fire, recalling how the whole world reacted, united in shock.

The exhibition continues with a succession of gut-punching artworks including the use of lights and mirrors to create two infinite towers seeming to head deep into the ground, and a series of vertical metallic lines representing the view people would have seen as they jumped from the burning buildings.

Rachel Howard captures the hooded figure at Abu Ghraib. © The Artist / Photo Prudence Cuming Associates

Grayson Perry changed a work to include planes after 9/11 and the Chapman Brothers piled their figures of Nazis into two mounds to signify the two towers. Whether this was this the right reaction to such a tragic event is unclear, but it shows that artists,  like everyone else,  didn't really know how to deal with the event. Gerhard Richter made a painting of the World Trade Center and debated whether to display it as he was unsure whether his work would honour those who had died, or would be received as an artist taking advantage of a tragic event.

It's not all about 9/11 as the work here looks beyond at what came next. We see works inspired by the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib by American troops. A film by Omer Fast captures the horror of drone strikes, and a suit is covered in the dust from a suicide bombing in Iraq which artist Fabian Knecht wore as he walked through the streets of New York to highlight that suffering across the world is just as painful wherever it happens.

Security at airports is now incredibly strict and is it a price we're comfortable paying? © The Artist / Photo Thelma Garcia / Courtesy Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris-Brussels

Artists affected by the wars in the Middle East create works that will move any visitor. Lida Abdul whitewashes the ruins of a temple to capture how Afghan history is being lost, while artist Hrair Sarkissian destroys a model of a Syrian apartment in his frustration at having to be apart from his family who have remained in Syria.

This is a huge exhibition filled with works that hit us with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face. It's a show that had us constantly reeling and we left impressed by how compelling these artworks are.

We live in surveillance states but is it purely for our own protection? © Ai Weiwei Studio; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

We're often complaining that contemporary art exists in its own little bubble and many conceptual works we see at other shows are difficult for most people to relate to. Here's an example of how contemporary art can speak to everyone about important issues. Some people may find a few of the works controversial, but it's engaging people, raising questions and challenging perceptions — all things that artists should be doing.

This show rams home the point that art can be powerful, political and relevant. For these reasons it's arguably the most important exhibition you'll see this year.

Age of Terror: Art since 9/11 is on at Imperial War Museum until 28 May 2018. Tickets are £15 for adults.