Five must-see works at IWM London’s People Power exhibition
- 24 March 2017
The Imperial War Museum’s new exhibition charts the history of those who have campaigned for peace during times of conflict. We asked curator Matt Brosnan to pick his highlights.
Paul Nash, Wire
- © IWM Art 2705
Paul Nash experienced the battlefields of the Western Front both as a soldier and an official war artist during the First World War. Wire is typical of his wartime artwork. In a letter to his wife Margaret in 1917, he wrote: ‘It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested [and] curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from men fighting to those who want the war to go on forever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.’ This message, articulated through Nash’s art, was influential on anti-war sentiment in the succeeding years.
A A Milne letter
- © Estate of the Late Lesley Milne Ltd.
Winnie the Pooh author A A Milne was one of many prominent pacifist voices in 1930s Britain. In 1934, he had published his influential book, Peace with Honour. Yet with the rise of Nazi Germany, he was one of many pacifists that faced a moral dilemma and altered their position as another world war loomed. This letter, written three months after the Second World War began, eloquently sums up his position: ‘I believe that war is a lesser evil than Hitlerism. I believe that Hitlerism must be killed before war can be killed… I am a practical pacifist.’
Ernest Rodker placard
- © IWM / Ernest Rodker
In the 1950s, amid the tensions of the Cold War, the existential threat of nuclear weapons became the main focus of peace campaigners. In 1958, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was launched and a group of activists organised the first Aldermaston march, a demonstration centring on Britain’s main nuclear weapons research facility. This lollipop placard was carried by campaigner Ernest Rodker on the march. It is one of the original printed placards bearing the nuclear disarmament symbol designed by Gerald Holtom, which has subsequently become an iconic symbol associated with peace more generally.
Thalia Campbell banner
- © Thalia Campbell, courtesy of The Peace Museum
With nuclear war appearing a possibility, the 1980s saw a resurgence in anti-nuclear protest. One of the most famous was staged at Greenham Common air base in Berkshire, where US cruise missiles were due to be stationed. Thalia Campbell was among the original ‘Women for Life on Earth’ group who first established the peace camp at Greenham in September 1981. She made this banner, which sums up many elements of the camp, including the living conditions in tents and caravans, the human chains protesters formed around the base and the strong feminist identity.
David Gentleman artwork
- © IWM / David Gentleman
On 15 February 2003, up to two million people took part in the largest anti-war protest in British history in London against the Iraq War. It was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, a group created in 2001 that rapidly galvanised wide participation. Posters and placards for the demonstration were designed by artist David Gentleman, previously best known for his watercolours, printmaking, book illustration and stamp designs. This is an original preliminary artwork for his first poster for the huge demonstration. It features an impactful single-word message and his emotive blood-splat motif, which he used in many other designs for Stop the War.