Peter Kennard: Unofficial war artist

Photography, photomontage, paintings and mixed media exhibition

Imperial war museum, London.

Date of visit: January 24th, 2016

Curator: Richard Slocombe.

Location, setting, atmosphere:

Paradoxically set in the Imperial War Museum which, presumably, houses pro-war memorabilia. It was set in four spaces all dealing with different aspects of Kennard’s take on wars in general & the Iraq war in particular.  The spaces were relatively small so you were very close to the items on display which made it quite oppressive.


  •  wide historical catchment implying that the principle factors apply to all contemporary war settings.
  • the spaces could accommodate large as well as small exhibits.
  • you could get close to the exhibits even though the reflections off the glass fronts meant that you had to dance around the pieces.


  • not well publicised: I had actually come to the venue to see the Lee Millar exhibition & stumbled on this one by accident.

Examples of work:

Decoration 2003 – 2004 (painting)










  • His art work is superb & I had not realised that his Decoration series was a series of paintings.
  • The collages & photomontages were exceptional for their time & are still relevant & valid today.
  • His blunt use of numbers every where echoes the apocryphal statement:” A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” attributed to Josef Stalin in 1943.  The magnitude of the statistics made me feel incapable of comprehending the scale of human suffering – I felt number numb after having seen the exhibition.
  • His small oil paintings of faces emerging from the black background without a context, titled Face (2003), are starkly different from the rest of the work.  It still talks of globalisation – where does the face come from – Kurdistan or London?  It still talks of communication – or the lack of it – and still trying to tell a story.  We are implicated in their story – are the powerless trying to emerge or are they going back into obscurity?  They are voiceless – Kennard has not given them mouths – can we empathise?  This is the question the author forces us to ask ourselves throughout the exhibition.
Face (2003)
  • The physical layering of the material (see featured image) which consisted of photos, statistics , business cards of those companies which profit from the wars & the information cards pasted on the railings,  all present a very different way of conflating the information & making it make sense.

What I took away with me about the work:

  • The immense talent of the author in his ability to make us react to his work through the vast range of his expression.
  • The commitment of the author is relentless.
  • Words are of secondary importance (but the concept of numbers is essential) in understanding his ideas.

What I took away with me about me:

  • I could never hope to achieve such a standard of expression.


  • The more exhibitions I see the more I realise that I do not have to restrict my practice to photographs only.  I must try collages & photomontage – perhaps in a sketchbook!

Next step:

  • try a first photo montage.

Star rating: 5*







6 thoughts on “Peter Kennard: Unofficial war artist”

    1. Did you enjoy reading the review? Did it make you see something different in the work? Have you tried a photo montage? I need to push myself to interact physically with the material.


  1. This comes at just the right time for me as I’ve been remembering Kennard’s work. The first assignment in Digital Image & Culture concerns collage/composite and he’s a master of the art. I heard him speak at a day symposium at the Science Museum on narrative and photography. Still fervent and very political.


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