Artists 14-11-2017

How has our perception of conflict changed since 9/11? A London show addresses the question

Sixteen years after 9/11 and just a couple of years after the Paris attacks, a London exhibition looks to the long-lasting effects of the wave of terrorism that has hit the West in the last two decades through the work of 40 contemporary artists, among whom Ai Weiwei, Grayson Perry, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Holzer, Mona Hatoum, Alfredo Jaar, Coco Fusco, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Lida Abdul, Khaled Abdul Wahed, Fiona Banner, Omer Fast, Alfredo Jaar, Julie Mehretu, Hrair Sarkissian and Taryn Simon.

On show at London’s Imperial War Museums until May 28, the show has already raised some questions — and eyebrows. We spoke to the exhibition’s curator, Sanna Moore.


What do you say to those who have criticized the “sensationalism” of this show, arguing that we can’t compare today’s political turmoil with the two World Wars. In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones writes that the exhibition does not differentiate between the Syrian conflict — a popular revolution, so not a direct consequence of 9/11 — and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Age of Terror: Art since 9/11 does not directly compare past and contemporary conflicts, but instead looks at how the catastrophic events of 9/11 and subsequent ‘War on Terror’ altered our perception of conflict, examining the changing nature of warfare in today’s society.

The exhibition’s remit is to depict how artists have reflected the global response to the ‘state of emergency’ in which we now exist, considering the use of mass surveillance, the collection of information on individuals, the withdrawal of civil rights, suspension of due legal processes, detention without trial, the revocation of constitutional law and the institutionalisation of violence. Taking a thematic approach, the exhibition draws on September 11 as a starting point, featuring artworks that comment on the ‘War on Terror’ and its consequences, including changing state controls, the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, developments in weaponry and the impact on people and places.

We also wanted to include responses from artists which are layered and complex and not necessarily isolated to one event or idea – that’s a reflection of how artists work and process issues around contemporary conflict. The artworks offer a range of perspectives that allow us to consider the reality of living in a post-9/11 world.


Omer Fast, 5000 feet is the best (2011)


Can we compare the reaction and artistic production that Modern artists had to the world conflicts with the work produced by contemporary artists in the face of today’s global crisis? Contemporary production doesn’t necessarily represent conflict but it does reflect its influence on our daily lives.

Artists have always responded to world-changing political events. They use different tools and media to address the subject of conflict, which provide new and often challenging viewpoints. Conflict as a subject matter has been more regularly covered in contemporary art exhibitions, art fairs and biennials internationally since 9/11. It is perhaps a consequence of the internet age that people are more quickly and comprehensively informed about world events, and this is reflected in how artists respond and the subjects they choose to cover.


Shona Illingworth, 216 Westbound (2014)


From its inception in 1917, IWM has worked with artists in order to give insight into current conflicts. The art collection of over 20,000 works is a testament to that. In our contemporary era, we are aware of the work of artists living in or displaced from conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Contemporary artists play a different role today than the traditional role of the ‘war artist’ in the First and Second World Wars. They are responding in a changed society that is increasingly digital, networked and democratic in terms of production.


James Bridle, Drone Shadow (2017)

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