Post-9/11 art celebrated in ′Age of Terror′ show in London | Arts | DW | 26.10.2017
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Post-9/11 art celebrated in 'Age of Terror' show in London

As the ghosts of September 11 still haunt the world, London's Imperial War Museum has opened an exhibition featuring art created in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Ai Weiwei and Gerhard Richter feature.

Ai Weiwei Ausstellung in Martin-Gropius Bau Berlin 02.04.2014 (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Ai Weiwei's marble 'Surveillance Camera'

September 11, 2001 changed the course of history before the new millennium had barely begun.

The terrorist attack carried out by al-Qaida killed more than 3,000 people and sparked a string of continuing wars across Afghanistan and the Middle East that arguably set the stage for the rise of the Islamic State.

In response, free movement has been curtailed as governments around the world have hardened borders and increased public surveillance under the guise of fighting terrorism.

As the art world has responded to these shifts, a new exhibition at London's Imperial War Museum entitled "Age of Terror" showcases art work created in the aftermath of 9/11. Renowned global artists like Ai Weiwei, Gerhard Richter, Indrė Šerpytytė and Grayson Perry produced some of the dozens of works on display.

Read more: Trauma and conflict photography: ‘We own this collectively’

The first truly global event

"September 11 was a watershed in our society, our political and cultural identity. And I think you could probably say that it's a watershed for artists, too," said the museum's head of art Rebecca Newell during a press conference on Wednesday.

She wasn't talking only about the US, however. Coinciding with the start of the internet era, September 11 was one of the first truly global events, which is why the exhibition presents works by artists from the United States, Britain, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and beyond.

The show is divided into four themes that explore the artists’ direct responses to the events of 9/11, state surveillance issues, society's relationship with firearms, bombs and drones, and the destruction on landscape, architecture and people caused by conflict.

Nazis, skyscrapers and Ai Weiwei 

Sanna Moore, the curator of the exhibition, picked 50 installations and objects, video art pieces and paintings, including works by German visual artist Gerhard Richter and British painter Rachel Howard.

There is Grayson Perry's golden vase, "Dolls at Dungeness September 11th, 2001," on which the British artist was working when the attack happened, explaining the ominous planes above the original picturesque scene.

Gerhard Richter's print from 2009 (G. Richter 2017)

Gerhard Richter's print from 2009

Ai Weiwei's CCTV surveillance camera made of marble (see top of story) speaks for itself, as does "Nein! Eleven?", two piles of massacred toy soldiers wearing Gestapo uniforms created by Jake & Dinos Chapman, which takes visitors on a trip through the history of violence.

Read more: Ai Weiwei's citywide New York exhibition aims to bring down walls

Indian artist Jitish Kallat also used figurines in his "Circadian Rhyme 1", with the difference that his objects are undergoing body searches in various everyday situations. 

Jamal Penjweny’s photo series "Saddam is Here" sees ordinary Iraqis hold head shots of the dictator’s face in front of their own; while Indrė Šerpytytė’s abstract paintings represent the facade of the World Trade Center towers as seen by people falling from the windows at 150 kilometers per hour.

Are we living in the age of terror?

Since the exhibition aims to "highlight the crucial role of artists in representing contemporary conflict," the museum has also displays various pieces that reference, or are directly inspired by, the ongoing conflicts in Syria and many other regions. 

"This is the largest contemporary art exhibition ever staged by the Imperial War Museum. It reflects the increase in the number of artists responding to conflicts in recent years," said Sanna Moore, the curator of the exhibition.

"Age of Terror: Art since 9/11" runs in London's Imperial War Museum through May 28, 2018.

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