Tuesday, 12 October 2010



This entry was writen on 12/10/10 and was accurate at the time. Since then Baghdad has toured  many locations, and the IWM has had a major refurbishment. It's back there now, but not in the same place.

One path to the entrance of the Imperial War Museum runs between guns'n roses: exquisite Peace roses still in bloom in the gardens in October, and two gigantic British guns which between them clocked up over 50 years’ service on battleships in the last century. 
On through the glass doors and into the main atrium which is like a giant’s collection of curiosities. Some of the most deadly military weapons of the past 100 years crowd in on you. Here’s a French Field Gun from WW1; there’s a Jagdpanther (Hunting Panther), once the most efficient tank destroyer in the world, and beside it a German Schwerer (Heavy Gustav) Shell with a range of 23 miles. A Sopwith Camel aeroplane hangs like a trapped moth from the ceiling beside a Spitfire. There’s even a dinky little dinghy which sailed across the Channel on D day and came back with precious cargo of real people’s lives.
But now among the greys and blacks and browns a new colour stands out, a feisty glowing rust. It’s Jeremy Deller’s car, well, not his exactly, and no longer a car, but  a compressed tangle of twisted metal he salvaged from a suicide attack on the historic Al-Mutanabbi street book market. Al-Mutanabbi, who lived in the 10C, is said by some to be the greatest Arab poet, and the attack was interpreted as war on culture as well as human beings. There are eye witness accounts of pieces of flesh and  pages of books flying through the air. Thirty-eight people were killed - including the five sons of a cafe owner -  and over 100 were wounded. At the beginning of the 20th century, 10% of all casualties in conflict were civilians; in 2010 that figure is 90%. No one has ever claimed responsibility
But is it art? I first saw Deller’s work in 2010 when he created a stir at the Intelligence exhibition at Tate Britain. Later he won the Turner Prize. He has a social anthropologist’s knack of questioning our taken-for-granted assumptions and getting us to look at what genuinely moves us. He does it not by displaying the exotic or perfect, but by setting out the low key, the unexpected, the incongruous.
Which is why it’s in the Imperial War Museum.  The exhibits are mostly objects which waged war on someone or something in the past. But the car is in a sense a present-tense victim. ‘It’s unusual,’ Dellar says, ‘to see anything from the conflict in Iraq "in life", so I was interested in being able to show this car to the public...’ It’s already toured New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Now it’s a major new acquisition, incontrovertible evidence of the impact of modern war on civilians. The IWM hopes it will ‘encourage visitors to consider not just this car, but all our exhibits, in a new light.’ 


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