PETER KENNARD AND THE ART OF POLITICAL MONTAGE
Peter Kennard’s Exhibition ‘Unofficial War Artist’ at the Imperial War Museum in London took me back to the height of the CND rallies of the 1980’s.
His iconic work then plastering the walls of many students’ rooms, including my own. What I’d failed to realise until this exhibition was how prolific an artist he continues to be.
Kennard’s work falls mainly in the category of the photo montage, an art form with its origins in the radical politics of Dadaism and also used to striking visual effect by Rodchenko and Popova in the Soviet Union. Kennard became Britain’s leading proponent of photo montage in the 70’s and 80’s applying it to the political issues of the time such as Vietnam, CND and Amnesty International. But since then he has continued to apply his unique style to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as world poverty and inequality.
In addition to providing a sombre reminder of the political problems that have plagued this planet over the last 50 years, what was particularly clear was Kennard’s intention to make direct connections between conflict and the organisations that profit from it, as well as pointing the finger at Governments’ inability to irradicate poverty on the one hand whilst managing to finance expensive weapons programmes on the other.
It’s not subtle, but it’s a welcome tonic to current trends in contemporary art.
The Imperial war Museum’s decision to hold this retrospective is fascinating and produces many interesting contrasts. A more recent example of Kennard’s work are his ‘Decoration’ series of paintings, 3m high canvasses which resemble medals and their ribbons but which draw attention to the human cost of the Iraq war by replacing the medal part with images of human suffering (an ‘Abu Graib’ hooded prisoner for example). Two floors above however, in the ‘Lord Ashcroft’ gallery is an exhibition of official war medals received by servicemen and women. The contrast is startling and it is impossible not to reflect on this.
The exhibition continues until May 2016.