London: Culture Under Attack!

Posted by in Culture

If only the military was confined to adventure films.


The Imperial War Museum is not exactly one that comes up in my list of places to go in London. Without going into details I only went to use facilities. Only then did I notice the Culture Under Attack exhibition and my interest was piqued. As per the quote fronting up the show ‘Culture makes us who we are. The places we build, the art we create, the music we love.’ Further more, our language, thoughts and ideas.

Personally, I abhor the idea of war. No less than a kind of geographic bullying connected to territory and power. As in the song War, What is it Good For? Absolutely nothing! The only thing I’ve liked featuring the Nazis was Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As a kid I took an instant dislike of fighting and military planes and even now prefer commercial ones.

It is one of the reasons myself and a male relation don’t get on. He for many years an army man, now ex-military. Me for many years an arts, humanities and cultural student of academia and the world. He thinks the forces are the be all end all. I think they’re an unfortunate necessity in a world where the educated elite and elected mistrust each other. Thus the two don’t mix. And there lie the nucleus of a very big problem. How to protect culture and heritage in times of conflict? 

Do not go gentle, those who risk all to broadcast in difficult times!


The recent exhibition attempts to find out and concentrates on three parts. The first ‘Rebel Sounds’ deals with music in times of conflict, the second ‘What Remains’ speaks about buildings and their destruction right up to 2019’s inferno at Notre Dame (see also my post on Warsaw).

Finally, the third piece in this particular puzzle is about Art in Exile, what to save, what counts more than other artefacts which brings into question that very western principle and another conundrum What is ‘best?’

These are aided by some great hands on gizmos to test how one would react. In the Rebel Sounds part of the gallery, I chicken out on the question ‘would you go to a concert in a conflict if you thought it would be dangerous?’ Nope. Otherwise it seems my viewpoint is more or less in the majority.

The music detailed in the exhibition falls outside of the new wave to the anger and energy of what preceded it. Punk – at least in terms of events in the north of Ireland. The Undertones and other bands which hold zero interest for me. What was though was the balls of a record store owner Terri Hooley who kept his shop ‘Good Vibrations’ open even amid threats of violence.

The political bands I am familiar with like Midnight Oil and That Petrol Emotion don’t receive mention, instead the act of broadcasting during a war (or conflict) does. Specifically B92, a radio station which again ignored threats at times being pulled off air, in Belgrade at the time of the civil war in the nineties. A long way from the chips/fries with disco that I encountered!

The caption says it all!


Do you ever, during times of conflict on the news, find yourself looking at a map of whatever place is under siege; be it Baghdad, Sarajevo or Aleppo and think to yourself I can’t imagine that being my city. How would London, Cardiff or Newport be ‘taken’ under a military plan of attack?

The last time this happened in the UK would have been the Blitz WWII. And it’s most likely the attacking forces would target for example: The TATE, the V&A, and other cultural beacons including the Imperial War Museum itself! The map pictured top-left below shows the level of damage after a raid: Black – total destruction, the reds are seriously damaged and yellow (not that I can see a hell of a lot), minor damage.

Cause and effect.

The IWM has existed since WWII and an attack did occur in 1941, there is photographic evidence (see bottom-left above). In Cardiff I could see the National Museum and the Millennium Centre in the bay being prime targets. The exhibition also looks at the menace of ISIS and the destruction they have caused at the Temple of Bel in Syria and the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan for example.

The latter cleverly projected but not as yet rebuilt. I always say today’s troubles are tomorrow’s tourism so don’t be surprised if in 20 (or how ever many) years guided tours of Aleppo are taking place. The same as they are now in Bosnia and I would imagine Belfast (I’ve not been to either so can’t comment).

Finally to Art in Exile and while I am more at home at the TATE or V&A they and many other London museums share one thing in common with the IWM; what to evacuate if the threat of war becomes a more real situation? This is first illustrated in the picture above with images numbered 1 (definite save), through to 4 (least worthy of being saved).

Again how do we judge what is best? Another of the questions on screen is ‘Art is a luxury which should not be saved during a war.’ Heavy statement for a heavy but carefully constructed and entertaining exhibition. Would I go back to the IWM? Depends what’s showing.


Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world.

War & Peace (from CHASM) – Ryuichi Sakamoto
Burning Bridges (from Gentlemen Take Polaroids) – Japan
Generals and Majors (from Black Sea) – XTC
The Conflict (from The Hurting 2013 edition) – Tears for Fears
At Tension (from H2O) – Hall & Oates
The Troubles (from Songs of Innocence) – U2
Sunday After the War (from Candylion) – Harold Budd & Clive Wright
Medjugorje (from The Innocence Mission) – The Innocence Mission