Re-membering I is part of Back From the Front: Art, Memory and the Aftermath of War, a programme of exhibitions and events at the RWA commemorating the start of The Great War and 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. It explores the theme of conflict and memory across a series of interrelated exhibitions including Re-membering I and II; Shock and Awe:Contemporary Artists at War and Peace; Brothers in Art: John and Paul Nash and The Death of Nature.
The RWA and Bristol 2014 have worked in partnership to feature a number of responses from artists, writers, architects and composers on the themes of commemoration and memorialisation. Each new work has been specially commissioned by Bristol 2014 thanks to investment by Arts Council England through their National Lottery funded Grants for the Arts programme to commemorate the centenary of World War One.
Each of the artists commissioned for this project have been tasked with ‘creating new work that speaks to today’s audiences’. Re-membering I features work from visual anthropologist Dr Shawn Sobers and award-winning photographer Angus Fraser. Here, the notion of commemoration through art is particularly relevant, as we attempt to remember through a medium that is inherently linked to the notion of absence: presenting ghostly traces of the past.
Sobers’ experimental collection of multi-media works, Inconsequential Monuments, explores the complex notion of civic monuments, personal memorials and collective memory in relation to Africa’s connectedness to global history and experiences of the diaspora, pre- and post-colonial empire. The work African Kinship Systems: Emotional Science – Case Study: The Fate of the SS Mendi commemorates the tragic narrative of the accidental sinking of the SS Mendi, which sank on 21 February 1917, just twelve miles off the coast of the Isle of Wight. 646 lives were lost – 607 of these were black African troops.
Fraser’s new work The Flooded Trench takes inspiration from the art and literature produced as a direct response to experiences of war. Inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s The Redeemer, Fraser reflects on the fatalities of soldiers in the trenches, capturing this hostile and alien environment in the glare of artificial lights. Shot on a large format analogue field camera, the work is reminiscent of the epic narrative scale of work produced by World War One Official War Artists such as Paul Nash and Christopher Nevinson.
Back From the Front is curated by Professor Paul Gough RWA and is supported by Bristol 2014, Arts Council England, the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership and the University of the West of England, Bristol.