Friday, 7 November 2014

World War One centenary events

It's hard to open a paper today (or look at a news website) and avoid reading about some WW1 centenary-related news item, artwork, installation or other commemorative event.

The poppies spilling out of the Tower of London poppies look breathtaking, and have attracted millions of visitors and lots of media attention. This dramatic installation by by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, titled Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, is due to be dismantled on 12 November (the day after Armistice Day), but it has proved so popular that the hours of floodlighting have been increased and there have been calls for it to be extended. Volunteers have helped to plant the poppies in the moat and more volunteers will help to remove them. All of the 888,246 hand-made poppies have already been presold online, raising more than 15 million pounds for charity.  

The installation is visually stunning, but there have been some thought-provoking responses to it. The Quakers have created a map to show how much of London would be covered if the poppies represented all the of the 19.5 million people from every country - soldiers and civilians, allies and enemies - and not just the British dead. And a challenging article by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian claimed that "an adequate work of art about the war has to show its horror, not sweep the grisly facts under a red carpet of artificial flowers."

An ad campaign that has also attracted some controversy is Sainburys' Christmas ad, based on accounts of German and Allied troops celebrating Christmas together in the trenches. Is it disrespectful for a supermarket to use WW1 to sell groceries? Or is is a reasonable and fitting way of letting people know what happened?

Here in Wellington, a number of buildings were illuminated over several nights with scenes of soldiers, war and New Zealand during the war years.   

It's fascinating to see how people are choosing to remember the events of 100 years ago, but I think we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over what it is that we are remembering, and how we do that in the best and most meaningful way. 

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