People Power: Fighting for Peace

23 Mar — 28 Aug 2017 at the Imperial War Museums in London, United Kingdom

16 JANUARY 2017
Tom King / Alamy Stock Photo. Brian Haw
Brian Haw was the single-minded campaigner who established a peace camp in London’s Parliament Square in 2001 until his death in 2011 to protest against UK and US foreign policy.
Tom King / Alamy Stock Photo. Brian Haw
Brian Haw was the single-minded campaigner who established a peace camp in London’s Parliament Square in 2001 until his death in 2011 to protest against UK and US foreign policy.

IWM London presents People Power: Fighting for Peace, the UK’s first major exhibition to explore the evolution of the anti-war movement from the First World War to the present day.

Rare items such as a handwritten poem by Siegfried Sassoon and original sketches for the peace symbol* go on display in People Power: Fighting for Peace, a major exhibition exploring one hundred years of the anti-war movement in Britain. The exhibition tells the stories of individual and collective acts of anti-war protest, and the varied forms of creative expression used to campaign against war.

A unique combination of more than three hundred items will take visitors on a journey from the First World War to the present day, looking at how peace activists have influenced perceptions of war and conflict. Paintings, literature, posters, banners, badges and music reveal the breadth of creativity generated by those who have opposed war and how anti-war protest has been inextricably linked to the cultural mood of each era.

Highlights of the exhibition include Wire (1918) by Paul Nash and C R W Nevinson’s Paths of Glory (1917), artworks depicting the destructive nature of the First World War; a holograph manuscript of Siegfried Sassoon's poem The General on display for the very first time; a hand-written letter by Winnie the Pooh author A A Milne outlining his struggle to reconcile pacifism with the rise of Hitler; the original sketches of the nuclear disarmament symbol (now widely regarded as a general peace symbol) by Gerald Holtom; and Peter Kennard and Cat Phillip’s iconic photomontage Photo Op (2007) which depicts Tony Blair taking a selfie against the backdrop of a devastating explosion.

Matt Brosnan, Historian and Curator of People Power: Fighting for Peace at IWM says: “This exhibition is the first of its kind and displays a number of fascinating items which have never been exhibited before. In IWM’s Centenary year, this major exhibition continues our mission to explore war and conflict from multiple perspectives – highlighting the peace movement and its important role in British history.”

Objects are drawn from IWM’s rich collections, alongside significant loans from a range of organisations and individuals, which help to explore the complex and evolving nature of the peace movement. Comprising four main sections - and featuring items ranging in scale from a tiny pin badge to a 30ft banner - People Power: Fighting for Peace tells the stories of passionate protesters over the past one hundred years and the struggles they have endured for the anti-war cause:

First World War and 1920s The exhibition begins with the birth of the modern peace movement which was kick-started by the First World War and the introduction of military conscription in 1916. Personal items and emotional letters reveal the harrowing experiences of conscientious objectors who faced non-combatant service, forced labour, imprisonment and hostility from wider society. This section also explores the impact of the First World War on poets and artists in shaping perceptions of war, vividly depicting the hellish conditions on the Western Front.

1930s and Second World War The devastation of the First World War led to pacifist and anti-war views entering the mainstream to a greater extent. This section charts the creation of a more visible pacifist presence and the famous faces that supported it, such as A A Milne and Vera Brittain. However, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany in the late 1930s presented a moral dilemma for many pacifists. Diaries, letters and photography reveal the personal struggles faced by these anti-war campaigners. The section also looks at the experiences of conscientious objectors and those who performed alternative service during the Second World War.

Cold War The largest section of the exhibition explores the dawn of a new age, dominated by the fear of a nuclear apocalypse. The 1950s and 1960s saw the establishment of a number of anti-nuclear organisations, most famously the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Visually represented by the nuclear disarmament symbol designed by Gerald Holtom, the movement became heavily intertwined in the counter-culture and anti-establishment attitude of the 1960s. This section includes a variety of items that illustrate this connection with popular culture, such as flyers, badges and other ephemera emblazoned with the iconic symbol and supported by figures such as Joan Baez, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

This part of the exhibition also focusses heavily on the upsurge in demonstrations during the 1980s, featuring items and images relating to one of the most prominent protests of this period at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, established in 1981.

Modern Era The Gulf War (1990-91), Balkan Wars (1991-5), the war in Afghanistan (2001-2014), the war in Iraq (2003-2011), and continuing conflict in the Middle East have all triggered anti-war activity. This section of the exhibition features banners and other items from Brian Haw’s protest camp in London’s Parliament Square, which he created in 2001 and which remained there for more than ten years. This section also includes the original ‘blood splat’ artwork and posters by David Gentleman, designed for the Stop the War Coalition. These include his 'No More Lies' and 'Bliar' designs, as well as his original designs for the largest protest in British history, when between 1 and 2 million people protested in London on 15 February 2003 against the Iraq War. Continuing the journey right up to the present day, the exhibition features placards from the 2016 Stop Trident demonstrations, backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.