British artist Mark Neville was commissioned in 2010 as part of a unique collaboration between IWM’s Art Commissions Committee and arts organization firstsite Colchester, to spend two months with 16 Air Assault brigade in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as a war artist. Offering a rare insight into modern warfare, Neville was taken out on patrol and allowed to experience the war at an unusual level. Avoiding the conventions of media reporting, Neville filmed and photographed British soldiers and Afghan civilians using a variety of innovative approaches. These included slow motion filming, and the use of a series of backdrops made with resonant images of past wars. On show for the first time at IWM London, Neville’s works present an arrestingly direct and yet poetic view of British troops and the Afghan people he encountered.

Neville’s show begins with Growing up in Helmand, a photographic series of portraits of Afghan children encountered while out on patrol alongside images of strikingly young looking British soldiers deployed in Helmand. Over 60% of the population in Afghanistan is under-25 and some of the British soldiers serving are undoubtedly still in their late teens, although under-18s are not permitted on operational duty. Both young Afghans and young soldiers alike are growing up in the context of conflict.

The seven photographs on show are: Child, Jacket, Slaughtered Goat, Sweets, Painted Nails, Xmas Day, Helmand; Firing Range; On Patrol in Gereshk, 1; On Patrol in Lashkar Gah, 2; On Patrol in Nad Ali, 1; On Patrol in Sangin, Supplies for 2 Scots Regiment.

The series of films, includes Bolan Market a silent 6 minute slow-motion film shot from an armoured ‘Husky’ vehicle as it moved through a market renewed following Taliban withdrawal. Once a heavily-guarded Taliban area and now a neutral zone, Neville has captured Afghanistan on the verge of change. 7.62mm (11 mins) was filmed during the same drive, but creates a timeless quality through the use of black and white film; the effect disrupted only by the relentless shadow of the vehicle’s gun on the ground. In Backdrops (9 mins, 46 secs), Neville filmed British soldiers and Afghan civilians performing slow choreographed actions against a series of large backdrops ranging from John Burke’s photographs of Britain at war in 19th century Afghanistan to iconic First and Second World War paintings by Paul Nash and John Piper.

The three films on show are: Bolan Market (6 mins), 7.62mm (11 mins), Backdrops (9 mins, 46 secs).

Mark Neville (born 1966, London), lives and works in London. He works at the intersection of art and documentary, engaging at an extraordinary level with working communities facing difficult circumstances. Neville has had solo exhibitions at The Photographer’s Gallery, London (2013), Kuntshaus Essen, Germany (2010), Reg Vardy Gallery (2010), Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, Scotland (2008), Holden Gallery, Manchester (2006), Dick Institute, Kilmarnock (2006), Hunterian Museum, Glasgow (2006), Street Level Gallery, Glasgow (2006). His work has also featured in group shows at IWM North (2013), The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh USA (2012), Jeu de Paume, Paris (2009), Dean Gallery, Edinburgh (2009), Haus Der Kunst, Munich (2008), Modern Art Oxford (2006), Tate Britain (2004) amongst others. In 2013 Neville was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the New York Times for his project ‘Here is London’, and is currently working towards a solo show at the Alan Cristea Gallery, London opening November 2014.

“I am interested in exploring the social function of art, looking at how films and photographs can impact upon the real world; most of my work is made in a collaborative process intended to be of direct, practical benefit to the subject. For me, Bolan Market was the most successful piece I made during the commission to Afghanistan. I filmed it as we drove through the market on an armoured vehicle. The slow motion film reveals the complex emotions on the faces of the locals we passed as they reacted to both tank and camera, as well as conveying my own deep sense of unease – each moment those faces gazed at me and the camera seemed extended, prolonged, infinite…”

“I am pleased to be showing my work at IWM London and hope that it will invite and provoke questions and reactions from the audience about what our presence in Afghanistan really means” - Mark Neville

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Related images
  1. Mark Neville, On Patrol in Sangin, © Mark Neville, 2010
  2. Artist Mark Neville in the gallery, © IWM
  3. Mark Neville, On Patrol in Nad Ali, © Mark Neville, 2010