The visitor who will expect an exhibition called ‘A World at War’ to be full of military images will be disappointed. Frances Newman’s art works are at least as much to do with how the war resonates at home. ‘Another Bloody Sunday’, for example, takes the eye across a breakfast tray with a remnant of toast still on the plate to the newspaper behind it. The image – of the father protecting his son moments before the boy is killed by Israeli gunfire – is immediately familiar. Here it is an invasion, an interruption of the everyday rituals – and it is inescapable. In oil paintings and chalk drawings war is a factor in our daily living – like the menacing black cloud over what looks like Margate in ‘Welcome to Dreamland’.
From that breakfast table we are taken through dramatic and often stark images into the shadow world of the migrant and the refugee. They are brutal at times – but they are also ways of making visible what we cannot always be witness to. And on the cover of the catalogue, the beginnings of their flight – escaping from yet another little gift from civilisation, destroying their homes and launching them into an often threatening world.
The exhibition embraces three-dimensional figures, installations like ‘Tyranny’, the ink portraits of child soldiers and the harsh concrete blocks that freeze the dish and cup of the hunger striker. The point, powerfully made, is that war is more than a formal meeting of military units. In demanding of us a reaction, these works bring together art and politics – the brutal reality and the emotional response that will encourage us to join the ‘Roads to Freedom’ marchers with whom the exhibition catalogue closes.
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