Thursday, 26 April 2018

Lichfield Cathedral exhibition
highlights the pain and
futility of war after 100 years

Yarn Front, an installation at the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition by Lichfield Cathedral’s artist in residence Peter Walker (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

After the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral yesterday, I spent some time at ‘Consequence of War,’ an exhibition that is part of the cathedral seasonal programme of services and events throughout 2018 to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice and the end of World War I.

This is a poignant, moving and revealing exhibition that draws attention to the effects of World War I. It explores the immediate aftermath of the conflict and the quest and failure of the search for peace over the subsequent century.

World War I was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars.’ But the exhibition points out that the world is wracked by war today – the wars being waged internationally include:

● War in Afghanistan (2001-present): civilian casualties 2017, 23,065; as of March 2018, 2,185.

● Mexican War on Drugs (2006-present): civilian casualties 2017, 14,771; as of March 2018, 24.

● Iraq conflict (2013-present): civilian casualties 2017, 13,187; as of March 2018, 881.

● Syrian Civil War (2011-present): civilian casualties 2017, 39,000; as of March 2018, 2,791.

‘Humanity’s Contempt for Humanity’ by Peter Walker in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The year 1918 marked not only the end of World War I, but also marked the year legislation was passed on women’s vote. But the exhibition points out that 100 years later gender pay remains a significant issue in 2018. It shows:

● A leading bank has a 29% pay gap between male and female employees and a 61% gap for bonuses.

● A national supermarket shows that its female hourly rate is 11.5% lower than for male counterparts.

● An example of a small-medium company shows that its female hourly rate is 22.9% lower than for male counterparts.

World War I created a major refugee crisis in Europe. But the exhibition points out that 100 years later the total number of refugees in the world in 2018 is 21.3 million people.

The regions with significant refugee populations are:

● Africa, 4.413 million;

● Europe, 4.391 million;

● Asia and Pacific, 3.830 million;

● Middle East and North Africa, 2.739 million;

● The Americas, 0.7 million.

World War I was supposed to bring greater quality. But the exhibition points out that 100 years later that the statistics for poverty are startling in 2018:

● Around the world, 569 million children and young people live on less than £1 a day.

● 5.9 million children die each year, most in the world’s poorest communities and from preventable diseases.

● 78% of the poorest people live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

● At least 2,000 food banks are operating in the United Kingdom.

The exhibition combines reflections of conflict from a local and national perspective and includes the work of some of Britain’s most significant post-war artists, which questions our notions of peace and war.

Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of Edward Sydney Wood, Bishop of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Internationally renowned artists included in the exhibition include the sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986), the landscape painter Paul Nash (1889-1946), the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915), Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) and Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959).

For a long time, the cathedral has displayed Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of Edward Sydney Wood, Bishop of Lichfield (1937-1953).

The works by Graham Sutherland include some of his studies for his massive central tapestry in the new Coventry Cathedral.

Helmet Head No 6 by Henry Moore in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Other exhibits include original work by the Cathedral’s Artist-in-Residence, Peter Walker, items from the Staffordshire Regiment Museum, military valour awards and trench art.

To mark this special exhibition, Lichfield Cathedral has also organised a series of lectures throughout May on the consequences of World War I on music, art, society and religion.

In his introduction to the exhibition, the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, writes: ‘1918 witnessed a time of hope that war itself could be abolished. That hasn’t come to pass, but it is the Christian conviction that Christ’s own sacrifice points a way through death to life, and the path to God’s peaceable Kingdom lies in truth-telling and hope. In the Bible we see the olive branch and the cross as two symbols of peace and reconciliation “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22: 2). This exhibition brings many perspectives and insights to bear on our act of remembrance. I hope it jolts us away from clichés into fresh understanding and appreciation.’

Memories of war ... old regimental flags in a row above the south porch in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

As I left the cathedral by the south porch there was yet another reminder of how war has been with us for so long. A group of old regimental flags that have been laid up are lined alongside each other in a row above the porch in the south transept. If only we could lay aside the ability to rush to war in the same way as easily as we lay aside the symbols of war.

● ‘Consequence of War’ opened last week [16 April 2018] and continues until 24 June 2018. It is open from 10.00 to 16.30 Monday to Saturday, and 12.30 to 14.30 on Sunday.

‘Study for the Calf of Saint Luke’ by Graham Sutherland in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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