Primary school children have been given the opportunity to explore the impact of the First World War on contemporary British artists.
A visit to Surrealism and the Arts in Chilgrove to see the exhibition The Impact of War will be used to inspire literacy, history, science and art lessons for pupils in years three and four at West Dean Primary School, who are studying the First World War.
Dr Sharon-Michi Kusunoki, a governor and the executive director of Surrealism and the Arts, curated the small but extremely powerful exhibition to aid the children’s learning.
She said: “Using the talent and vision of local British artists, and working alongside the national curriculum, this exhibition explores the impact of the First World War on contemporary British artists.
“Through the work of the artists, the children experienced not only the sense of loss, futility and tragedy of World War One but also a poignancy and glimmer of hope for the future.”
Dr Kusunoki introduced the children to the exhibition and explained that the impact of the war affected not only generations of families but also the natural environments in which the battles took place.
Exhibitor Maureen Brigden showed the children her piece, Broken Earth, which studies the destruction of war through injury and the loss of the human life, as well as the land on which wars are fought.
Made from the uniforms of some of the soldiers who died, Broken Earth pays homage to the trinity of those who fought, those who lost their lives and those left behind.
Dr Kusunoki said: “Whether standing upright and tall, or drooping and withered, the poppies in Maureen’s work remind us of the fragility of life but also of the strength of the human spirit.
“Her work is both an evocation of the war and a statement of a lost generation soaked in the blood of battles.”
The children were mesmerised by the clay crows scattered throughout the exhibition, squabbling over invisible scraps.
The artist, Annie Flitcroft, explained her process and helped the children sketch what they saw while remembering the significance of what was left behind.
School governor Vicky Rowlands said: “It was amazing to be there and see how much Beech Class got out of their visit to enrich their topic.
“Sharon created such an incredible exhibition and supporting explanation of the contemporary art. There were opportunities for the children to sketch, question two of the artists themselves, plus an experiential experience through mocked-up trenches and original artefacts for the children to handle.”
The children were able to crawl through a candlelit trench with a lone Christmas tree, decorated with the buttons from a soldier’s uniform.
They took home boxes reminiscent of the tins provided to soldiers by the Princess Mary Gift Fund.
They nibbled on trench cake, made from the recipe provided by the British government for a traditional cake to send to the soldiers in the trenches, and enjoyed Anzac biscuits, an example of the biscuits sent to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
Dr Kusunoki said: “The Impact of War is both an evocation and a statement of a lost generation soaked in the blood of war.
“As the children departed the exhibition, one of them proclaimed ‘this was the best experience of my life’.”
The exhibition features the work of Maureen Brigden, Sarka Darton, Andrew Dickinson, Annie Flitcroft, Heather Gray-Newton, Liz Hanan, Juliet Larken, Amelia Odin, David Pratt, Maria-Aurelia Riese and Max Stewart with loans from Peter Mosey and Eileen Wilson.
Dr Kusunoki said: “The effects of war are devastating. Soldiers not only suffered on the battlefield but often experienced long-term physical and psychological damage.
“One of the deadliest conflicts in history, with over 37 million military and civilian casualties, was World War One. Its impact has affected not only generations of families but also the natural environments in which the battles took place.
“This exhibition explores the impact of the First World War on contemporary British artists. Through their work, we experience not only the sense of loss, futility and tragedy, but also a poignancy and glimmer of hope for the future.”
The Impact of War was inspired by the exhibition RAW – Reflections on War and its Aftermath at The Guildhall, Priory Park, in June 2014.
All of the works assist in informing and inspiring future generations to consider and question the lessons learned from the First World War.
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