At the British Museum, the War, Violence and Beauty

Glory or barbarism, heroism or useless violence? The latest exhibition at the British Museum reflects on how art has depicted the various faces of war and it does so even placing the first digital work acquired by the museum alongside three remarkable historic collections. It all starts in the Pharaohs’ Egypt and the reign of Niniveh, with the extraordinary bas-reliefs of the Battlefield Palette and of the Palace of Ashurbanipal. Meanwhile, a celebrated Greek urn brings us into the atmospheres of the Trojan war, with the legendary duel between Achilles and the Amazon Queen Pentesilea. In the moment that the legendary hero defeats his adversary, he looks into her eyes and falls in love, but it is too late. Completing the circle, the Iranian artist Farideh Lashai, matched up with none other than Francisco Goya. The point of departure here are the series of engravings The Disasters of War by the Spanish painter: here, the atrocities of the Peninsular War (1808-1814) are immortalised with a crude realism that breaks with the idealistic visions of the past. In the video-installation When I Count, There Are Only You… But When I Look, There Is Only A Shadow, Lashai brings the figures of Goya into the digital world, while one of Chopin’s “nocturne” completes the works, underlining the contrast between the beauty of art and the horror of the battlefield.
Francesca Grego - © 2017 for Bulgari Hotel London