Drone Shadow, 2017

Drone Shadow, 2017

Image by James Bridle, courtesy of the artist

Daniel Nelson


Looking at artists’ responses to terrorism should be fascinating but many of the 50 paintings, installations, sculptures, photographs and prints are pedestrian or, at worst, glib, and together they  fail to provide insight.

The big names offer least – like the aircraft Grayson Perry has added to a vase after the attack on the twin towers. It’s shallow, though at least it’s a response. Several other works are not strictly about terrorism (such as Mona Hatoum’s glass hand grenades in a cabinet) and their inclusion makes the exhibition feel loose. As is common today, there’s a widespread but mistaken idea that a visual pun makes a work significant. It’s one of the ways that TV has affected art – and not for the better.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the most literal works ( a corridor of 9/11 newspaper front pages, a photograph of  Obama and the National Security Council members intently watching the assassination of Osama bin Laden), have an impact that’s hard to beat.

A few images do stand out In the melee. Walid Siti’s Floodland, Siti, is a fictional map depicting a tormented, volatile landscape that seems to be literally sliding off the wall. Ivan Navarro’s light installations, The Twin Towers, draw the viewer into a bottomless space. Omar Fast’s half-hour video of an interview with a former drone operator nags at your brain. James Bridle’s Drone Shadow on the ground floor entrance is effectively simple, and so is Mahwish Chishty’s colourful drone. It’s no accident that the pieces that get closest to the mark are by artists in or from countries in the terrorist frontline, which do not include the West.

So, yes, there are works of interest. But the exhibition is undermined by a lack of rigour in its assembly and a lack of thought about the implications. Perhaps the influence of 9/11 on art is marginal, however enormous the impact on individuals and geopolitics – but even that is not explored. It feels like a missed opportunity for a museum that has done so much to re-think its brief.

  • Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11 is at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, SE1, until 28 May, £15/£10/£7.50.  Info: https://www.iwm.org.uk/ageofterror
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