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Women War Artists

Imperial War Museum London
9 April 2011 - 8 January 2012
Press view 7 April 2011, 10am-1pm

Women War Artists, a new exhibition at Imperial War Museum London will explore the remarkable experiences and achievements of female war artists from the First World War to the present day. The importance of women artists as eyewitnesses, participants, commentators and officially commissioned recorders of war will be examined, considering their experiences both in theatres of conflict and at home.

Highlights from the Imperial War Museum’s outstanding art collection, including challenging contemporary works by Frauke Eigen, Jananne Al-Ani and Fiona Banner, will be shown alongside a significant video installation by Mona Hatoum, in this thought provoking display. As well as key works by female official war artists, recent Second World War acquisitions depicting factory work and the home front from an unofficial perspective will be exhibited. These include watercolours by artists such as Margaret Abbess and Eleanor Erlund Hudson, and Priscilla Thornycroft’s oil painting Runaway Horse in an Air Raid Alarm 1939, on show for the first time. Taking an analytical approach to the subject of conflict, the exhibition aims to illuminate both the constraints and possibilities encountered by female artists in war time. 

Organised into three different themes, War Zone, Working Together, and Costs of War, the exhibition shows the diversity of the artists’ reactions to war and conflict. Personal reflections from some of the artists will provide an insight into how war has shaped their lives and will highlight the variety of ways that conflict can inform artistic practice.

The artists’ experiences range from official commissions to secret observations and provocative interpretations of the world at war, capturing and interpreting key moments in history through art.

Women War Artists exhibition highlights:

  • Mona Hatoum, Turner Prize nominee and internationally renowned contemporary artist, Measures of Distance (1988)
  • A Shell Forge (1918) by Anna Airy, one of the first women officially commissioned during the First World War
  • Dame Laura Knight RA, the first woman for 150 years to be elected to the Royal Academy (since the original founding members in 1768). Works include The Nuremberg Trial 1946 and Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-ring (1943).
  • Linda Kitson, commissioned by Imperial War Museum in the 1982 Falklands conflict, making her the first female artist officially commissioned to accompany troops in battle
  • Frauke Eigen, a photographic artist responding to the exhumation of mass graves in Kosovo in 2000
  • Jananne Al-Ani, from her perspective as the daughter of an Iraqi father and Irish mother, focuses on the Gulf War in Untitled May 1991
  •  Doris Zinkeisen’s powerful work Human Laundry, Belsen, April 1945

Women War Artists offers a unique opportunity to revisit key moments in the last century of Britain’s history of war and conflict, through this largely unexplored perspective.

The Imperial War Museum holds one of the greatest collections of twentieth century British art in the world and is still actively commissioning artists to respond to conflicts today. This exhibition aims to show key historic and contemporary works from the Museum's internationally renowned collection, alongside contemporary loaned material, in order to explore not only the evolving approaches of female artists to conflict, but also the way in which our perception of conflict itself has changed.

Women War Artists will be accompanied by a new book published by Tate Publishing in association with the Imperial War Museum and written by exhibition curator, Kathleen Palmer.

Admission Free

For further information or images contact Ellie Farrell, Senior Press Officer,  020 7416 5497, efarrell@iwm.org.uk or Nina Smetek , Press and Marketing Assistant, 0207 091 3069, nsmetek@iwm.org.uk

Notes to Editors

Women as Official War Artists
The first official war artists’ scheme was set up by the British government in 1916. Started mainly for propaganda purposes, it soon developed higher artistic aims – to record and memorialize Britain’s war effort. Four women were commissioned through this scheme, out of fifty-one artists. Of the four, three artists had their work rejected, and one did not take up the commission. The Imperial War Museum also commissioned nine women artists through its Women’s Work Sub-Committee.  

In the Second World War a single comprehensive government scheme was established under the War Artists Advisory Committee in the Ministry of Information. Over 5,000 works were created, the majority of which are now in the Imperial War Museum. Of the 400 artists involved, 52 were women. Only two women were given overseas commissions and only one, Evelyn Dunbar, was entrusted with a salaried position. 

The Imperial War Museum continues to commission artists to respond to modern conflicts. Initially commissions from the Artistic Records Committee, established in 1972, took a documentary approach. More recently, in 2000, the Committee’s remit and name was changed. Through its Art Commissions Committee the Museum supports selected artists to research and engage with conflict or post-conflict situations, and then to formulate a personal, artistic response. Of the fifty artists commissioned since 1972, twelve have been women (including two in male/female partnerships). Over the last decade the proportion has risen to three women amongst seven artists.       

Imperial War Museum London
The London branch of the Imperial War Museum explores how the history of modern conflict affects us all, from the front line to the home front. Exhibits range from tanks and aircraft to photographs and personal letters; they include film and sound recordings and some of the twentieth century's best-known paintings. Visitors can explore six floors of exhibitions and displays, including a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Holocaust and a changing programme of special temporary exhibitions.
Imperial War Museum London, Lambeth Road, London, SE1 6HZ
Open daily 10.00am – 6.00pm except 24, 25 and 26 December. Last admission 5.45pm
Public Enquiries + 44 (0)20 7416 5000
Press enquiries +44 (0)20 7416 5497 / efarrell@iwm.org.uk


Imperial War Museum
The national museum of the experiences of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since 1914.

The Imperial War Museum is the museum of everyone’s story: the history of modern conflict told through the stories of those who were there. It is an educational and historical institution responsible for archives, collections and sites of outstanding national importance.

The Museum’s five branches are Imperial War Museum London, with six floors of exhibitions and displays; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret headquarters below Whitehall; the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast; Imperial War Museum Duxford, a world renowned aviation museum and former Second World War airfield; and Imperial War Museum North, housed in a spectacular award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind.

Spring Air Show - Celebrating Women in Aviation
Imperial War Museum Duxford
Sunday 22 May 2011
Women have always played an integral role in the development of aviation, from the pioneering days of early flight to today’s sophisticated air power.  The Spring Air Show at Imperial War Museum Duxford celebrates the achievements of women in military and civil aviation; aerial adventure and aerobatics; engineering and technological advancement.

Tickets for the Spring Air Show can be purchased online at www.iwm.org.uk/duxford or by calling the Box Office on 01223 499 353.  The Box Office is open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

Press & Media Contact
Esther Blaine - 01223 499 320 or email: eblaine@iwm.org.uk

Visit Duxford’s Press Desk for details of other events and activities at the museum - http://duxford.iwm.org.uk/server/show/nav.127