Monday, 7 November 2011



Justine Smith works mainly with paper -  not any old paper - but paper in which we invest immense power: banknotes. They are highly desirable and collectible. Governments like them too. But money is also scary. It’s like an elemental force which impacts on us at a political, social and moral level. It’s slippery too. We know that money exchange is simply based on trust. On every English £20 note the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England puts his signature to the statement ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of twenty pounds’. We believe him.

This wreath, Enduring Loss, is partly made of Afghani banknotes. The number of poppies  corresponds to the number of UK troop deaths recorded from the start of the invasion of Afghan until October 7th 2011, the 10th anniversary of the war. All profits from the sale of the wreath will go to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. You do not expect to find such a stark reminder of the ultimate consequences of war in an art gallery. You wonder what would be the size of a wreath commemorating all the deaths – civilian and military - of all the people killed.

Smith cuts up fragile banknotes to use them in prints, sculptures and startlingly beautiful kaleidoscopic collages.  They come from failed states, conflict zones, repressive regimes and dictatorships. They reappear as guns, bullets, bombs and military aircraft worked into ornate patterns.  This is Instrument of State – Myanmar and consists of a Perspex case and Myanmar Kyats. Burma, also known as Myanmar, is ruled by a military junta which suppresses almost all dissent and wields absolute power in the face of international condemnation and sanctions. The Western press keeps an eye on pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi,  who has had various restrictions placed on her activities since the late 1980s. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in 1990 in Burma's first multi-party elections for 30 years, but has never been allowed to govern. Burma is said to be one of Asia's poorest countries

This is The Way of the Gun III. It's partly gilded with 23.5 carat gold leaf. Gold is the ultimate form of currency  and a metal which has probably been at the root of more greed, corruption and violence than most other elements.

 At first glance - through the gallery window for example -  a passer by could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a display of religious mandalas and designs for stained glass windows. For some this would be an irresistible attraction – for others it would lead to a determination not to darken the gallery’s doorstep. You have to draw close enough to see what is really there. The shock and excitement of this beautiful and original work is palpable.


  1. Very powerful work - great to discover a new artist and thank you for sharing it

  2. Thanks - that's just what I feel too.