Peter Kennard: An Unofficial war artist
Peter Kennard ‘I believe that the image of objects that we oppose should be broken up, shattered by opposing imagery. We must find key images enabling us to prise open and reveal the hidden mechanisms of oppressive regimes.’
The eerie glorification of the horrors of war so prevalent at the Imperial WAR Museum is at odds with this exhibition. Upon overcoming the whole ‘Keep calm’ bull-shtick propaganda and kitschy ‘ration fashion’ this is highly charged politic-art using photo-montage, collage and visceral sloganeering. Coming of age during the era of Vietnam, the struggle for civil rights, the Paris Spring in 1968, The ‘Troubles’, Kennard’s work deploys a Letterist International (and latterly Situationist) re-appropriation technique known as ‘detournement’, the recontextualising of images.
Upon arrival you are faced with these 4 huge paintings, the disintegration of humanity at the expense of the ‘nation’, unquestioning patriotism over people.
Ripped and torn business pages, desperate clawing fingers charcoaled onto them along with silhouetted faces of children. The subverting and reshaping images and context twist and re-present meaning leaving indelible marks on the consciousness and conscience.
One section has the spoils of an arms fair, the business cards of merchants of death that feature glib advertising mantras that bear no relation to what they espouse, this is particularly hard-hitting and provocative as target sights and iron resembling gun barrels prod out from the wall.
Numerous artworks for CND campaigns which serve as a reminder of the once daily threat of nuclear annihilation, fear propagated by a cadre before the thawing of the Cold War and prior to the new fears of fundamentalism and terrorism. The logo acts as a defence shield.
There’s Thatcher as Victoria, the ‘elected’ as monarch, Cameron’s face a wad of £50 notes ablaze, a comment on ‘Call Me Dave’ and his ilk’s long withstanding ties and subservience to the God of Mammon, the fluctuating and manipulated tables that determine invasion of territories and evasion of prosecution.
This says more about Blair’s ‘legacy’ than arguably anything else.
If there is anyone who still doubts the malfeasance of the corporate super-structure then the work of Kennard will put those doubts to rest. For those who feel powerless when faced daily with the relentless machine this provides hope and the message that there are many others who see beyond the smoke and mirrors.
Unlike the ‘war poets’ whose words and testimonies were (mis)appropriated before their corpses were cold, Kennard’s work resolutely resists co-option. His influence on art-provocateurs like Banksy et al (who has arguably been recuperated by the system, his messages nullified by and entwined with commerce) is evident.
This is a necessary corrective (and antidote) to the official narratives of winners and losers, goodies and baddies, US and THEM.Every school and college in the country should be visiting this exhibition and these teachings should be on the school curriculum. However, it is clear to see just why it’s not, too much knowledge in the wrong hands can be dangerous.