Hot on the heels of Mark Wallinger’s State Britain installation in the Tate Britain, London, comes another exhibit from a major British artist addressing the issue of the Iraq war.
Steve McQueen, who won the prestigious Turner prize in 1999, was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in 2003 to create an artwork responding to the conflict in Iraq.
The results, Queen And Country, are now on display at Manchester’s Central Library as part of the Manchester International Festival – and they aren’t quite what the military top brass might expect from an official war artist.
McQueen has produced a series of 98 facsimile copies of commemorative stamp editions, each bearing the face of a British soldier killed in the conflict.
He worked directly with the bereaved families, asking them to choose the images for the stamps.
While McQueen says the work is neutral on the politics of the Iraq war and occupation, he is furious with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which tried to block the project.
MoD officials were “horrified” by his proposed project, McQueen says. “They said, ‘Why can’t you do landscapes?’ I said, ‘What are you so ashamed of?’ I have no sympathy for their position at all.”
He adds that the work is dedicated to all victims of the Iraq war – including an estimated 650,000 Iraqis who have died as a result of the conflict.
McQueen is now calling on Royal Mail to issue the commemorative stamps as real stamps – though Royal Mail says it has “no immediate plans” to take up the artist’s offer.
Queen And Country by Steve McQueen, is a co-commission between Manchester International Festival and Imperial War Museum and will run at Manchester Central Library from 28 February until 14 July 2007.