Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist

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I visited the Peter Kennard exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. Kennard is Britain’s most important political artist whose work has become synonymous with the modern protest movement. He confronts issues in world politics and British government policy, and has inspired other political artist such as Mark Wallinger and Banksy.

Most of his work consists of very gritty and dark photomontage style of work that has a distinctive anti-war or other political awareness message. Above is a series of paintings combining digital print with oil painting  in response to the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Taking emphasis on traditional military decorations, in combination with the harsh realities of war, dead soldiers, captive prisoners and the glorification of war.

In one of them military medals have been replaced by the helmet of an American soldier with the number of kills listed in groups of five. In the centre piece a hooded man is ment to remind the people of the prisoner abuse by US troops. He also made particular emphasis on the involvement of the United States and Britain in the conflict. The image on the far left is a self portrait of Peter Kennard himself.

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It’s interesting to see how powerful a simple photomontage can become, as shown above a lot of his work is simply a combination of no more than 2-3 images. Each one of them sending a very powerful anti war message. Looking at these pieces of work closely you can see how they have a crude collage appearance in the combination of images used but they work perfectly well to convey their point.

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A lot of his work is often reproduced as part of a poster or newspaper in which it appeared. He has worked in collaboration with writers, photographers, filmakers and other artist. Because many of the left-wing organisations and publications he used to work with have disappeared, Kennard has turned to using exhibitions, books and the internet for his work.

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I liked this one in particular by Peter Kennard. I think it is a powerful image and just like the look of it as a more refined photomontage. It’s also an example of how Kennard sometimes re-adapts his work to different political issues. It is an adaptation of an earlier image by Kennar, which was part of the 1983 ‘Target London’ photomontage series for Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council. The original version had a Soviet ‘Hammer and Sickle’ appearing in one of the lenses but this updated version replaces it with the Union flag, criticising the UK’s support of America’s ‘War on Terror’.

 

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Peter Kennard’s later works have seen him try new techniques. More recently, Kennard has blended statistics with his thought-provoking montages.

Values (photograph taken in 1974) - by Peter Kennard

On this plate, coins replace food – the numbers and wording reflect the number of people on the planet who lack the diet for a healthy life.

 

Values (detail) by Peter Kennard by Peter Kennard

This exhibition has been an inspiration to my current project at looking at different mediums of producing effect imagery. Now days with modern technology (photoshop), it seems photomontages tend to be very refined, but Peter Kennards earlier works shows how it’s more about the message being put across that makes the images a lot more effective rather than pure aesthetics. It has also been a good reference into learning about creating awareness about political issues. For my anti-littering campaign I’m still not sure if I want to use drastic images and facts such as Kennard to drive my point across or if I am going to use a less harsh approach, it depends if I keep it focused on just families.

Sources:

some images are subject to copyright – Peter Kennard / Imperial War Museum

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