On Monday 24th November Manchester Museum hosted our first Museum–Whitworth collaborative study day – ‘Conflict: Making Sense of War‘. The aim of the day was to encourage students to discuss conflict in both the past and present, provide students with an understanding of conflict and stimulate a personal reaction to situations related to collections and artists responses.
The study day was prefaced by a short talk by our Curator of Living Cultures, Stephen Welsh, on the origins of our anthropological collection and some of the links these have to conflict. You can watch that video here.
On the day itself we were lucky to have a selection of students from three different colleges, studying Art, Fashion, History or Politics. After an introductory lecture by Professor Peter Gatrell, from University of Manchester’s School of Arts, Languages and Cultures students were encouraged to interact in various activities designed to get them thinking about how we respond to conflict – looking at art work, museum displays and text – and discuss their own reactions to various scenarios that represented conflict.
The talk by Peter Gatrell was well received, with students asking intelligent and thought-provoking questions. You can watch the entire talk, followed by the Q&A section below, or directly here. It provided students with a glimpse into how artists can interpret the facets of war and the discussions these pieces can produce – inclusive of the building of war memorials and the message they convey.
The afternoon session was shared by an external partner – In Place of War; an initiative that supports artists and creative communities living in sites of war, revolution and conflict to express themselves. Inés Soria-Donlan, Digital Manager for In Place of War, presented the idea of cultural activism through the arts as a way of responding to conflict. It was our colleagues from In Place of War that introduced us to our creative artist that led the final activity – Jun Tzu.
Jun Tzu – aka Jonathan Hamilton – is a Belfast born poet who has lived in Manchester since he was a teenager and writes material that deals directly with his experiences, many of which are linked with the history of conflict in Northern Ireland. He often uses his poetry to create rap and hip-hop songs, and recently brought out his debut album in 2014.
During the study day he was able to share his – and his family’s – experiences with the students and they engaged readily with his knowledge and position, benefiting from the direct and open approach Jun has. As an activity Jun asked each of the students to write a poem, supporting them with an approach he often uses as a starting point for his work. The students then performed these, demonstrating the mature and often complex responses to conflict that the day had stimulated. A few of which are shared below.
At the end of the day some of the comments we received about the day were really positive, see below.
[It was]…”Extremely beneficial – I learnt different views on certain aspects of conflict”
“Helpful – as [my view] was changed by listening to other people’s”
“Deeper discussions and questions – felt like we were only ever scratching the surface”
Students believed their analytical, critical thinking and writing skills all developed during the day and it prompted a number of questions that the students took away with them to continue discussions on the topic of conflict.
Does war create more beautiful art than peace?
Why is art so persistent in remaining through war?
Which information do we need to have to know what is really happening during a [conflict] event?
Can conflict ever be justified?
Is war really worth it?
Is propaganda the result of war?
All in all, it was a very successful day that we believe achieved all the aims we set out and encouraged those involved to express – and develop – their views about conflict given the significance of the centenary of World War War I this year. As a result, we hope to host another similar day in the Summer Term 2015.
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