Tonbridge artworks about WWI examine ‘Paradox of War’

Pam Mills
THE ART OF WAR: Gillian Smith's Hairshirt

The display ‘commemorating and exploring’ the Great War will be held in the Chamber Room of Tonbridge Castle from Sunday [October 7] for a week; entry is free.

One of the artists, Gillian Smith, described the event as ‘emotive’, saying: “It explores the service conditions, pressures, psyche and sacrifices made by those who served and supported, along with the legacy of the ‘war to end all wars’.”

She added: “Each piece seeks to set up a narrative with the onlooker and highlight a particular area of interest.

“These include the ‘white feather campaign’ [where men who weren’t fighting were given feathers by the public to shame them], forgotten war graves around Europe, post-traumatic stress, the symbolic and inspirational relevance of regimental colours.”

The title of the exhibition came from this summer’s Reith Lectures about warfare on BBC Radio 4 by Professor Margaret MacMillan.

“It’s a timeless phrase appropriate to all wars across time and space,” said Mrs Smith. “War is rife with paradoxes and the work in this exhibition touches on many contradictions.

“War is horrific and yet we are fascinated by it and romanticise it. We may not agree with it yet we will fight.

“It is an ugly affair and yet contains beauty, inspires great works of literature and art, and can bring out the best in people in terms of camaraderie and sacrifice.”

The works were created by Mrs Smith, Alison Berry, Jo Cockle, Lee Coyne, Irene Hammond, Annette Slim and Mark Willson.

The group met while studying for a degree in conceptual fine art at West Kent College through Greenwich University.

“The group is fluid and comes together to exhibit,” said Mrs Smith. “In this way we can invite other interesting artists to join us and we’ve organised a number of successful exhibitions at various locations in London.”

The Paradox of War runs from October 7-13 from 10am to 4pm, except for the final Saturday when it closes at noon. The public can meet the artists in person on the first day from 11am to 1pm.

Greybacks and Hairshirts

Gillian Smith’s ‘Hairshirt’ examines post-traumatic stress. ‘People who have lived through traumatic experiences, whether in combat or civilian life, don’t walk away unscathed, but wear it unseen,’ she says. The garment is based on a ‘greyback’ shirt, a standard part of the Great War uniform.


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