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Remembering War

Several years back I came across the Assyrian friezes in the British Museum, some of which depict military campaigns dating back to 883-859 BC. The art of commemorating conflict and war in the form of friezes and murals has a long history carrying right up to the present. This Summer I visited the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy and last week I happened across Ai Weiwei"s 50 metre long wallpaper installation, Odyssey [2016], at a gallery in London, and Farideh Lashai's, When I Count, There Are Only You... But When I Look, There Is Only a Shadow, showing as part of the On Violence and Beauty, Reflections of War at the British Museum.

Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry. Bayeux, Normandy, France

In the first bloom of youth a warrior dies the 'kalos thanatos', or 'beautiful death'. His gaze suggests he has detached his conscious self from the pain and trauma of death to look out at some distant horizon, perhaps paradise itself. The delicate & erotic modelling beneath the long tunic feminises the body and contrasts starkly with the hard, blank shapes of shield and helmet. This relief follows Greek practice in carving a mythological beauty out of conflict. Lycian, 390-380 BC, British Museum, London.

The Amazon Frieze, from the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos, carved about 350BC showing the expedition by Herakles and Theseus to Themiskyra and the fierce battle with the Amazon women. British Museum, London

Paulo Uccello, The Battle of San Romano, about 1438-40. National Gallery, London. This painting depicts a skirmish which took place between the Florentines & Sienese in 1432. The victorious Florentines are led by Niccolo da Tolentino, on a white charger.

Charles Sargeant Jagger, No Man's Land, 1919-20. Tate Britain, London

Farideh Lashai, When I Count, There Are Only You... But When I Look, There Is Only a Shadow, 2012-13. Both a poetic reference to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland (1922), the work draws inspiration from Francisco Goya's Disasters of War prints [1810-20]. The mood embraces the horror of Goya juxtaposed against the romanticism of Eliot’s poetry. Lashai manipulated the prints by removing the figures to leave empty settings, upon which she projected animated imagery via a roving spotlight. As the spotlight moves across the prints the figures fleetingly re-appear.

Ai Weiwei's 50m long wallpaper installation, Odyssey 2016, representing the global, ancient and continuing movement of peoples through conflict and war. [Detail shown]

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