“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hollywood as the arbiter of WW2 narrative has replaced the tradition of grand narrative historical painting. We do not gaze at stories of modern warfare upon a massive canvas, we go to the cinema. Instead of being captivated by paintings such as Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, we are spectators of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan or a highly edited version of the Battle of Britain in Dunkirk.
As I began to look at the Second World War seeking to understand the roots of intergenerational trauma, I became aware of how little I knew about stories which did not fit in with a popular understanding of history. Even though Hollywood has kept the Holocaust at the forefront of the public’s mind, the story of WW2 has largely been reduced to a heroes vs evil narrative which neglects the complexity of human experience.
My work is a response to lesser known wartime stories, especially those involving civilians, that have been neglected by the dominant narrative yet have universal and contemporary relevance. Many drawings are on small pieces of paper that fit easily into a pocket or a hand and although those could potentially be lost compared to larger work, when presented together there is a sense of presence while retaining attention to individual story and intimacy of scale.
Drawing is traditionally a preliminary practice yet I use it as a method of working back into a personal and collective past. Conte crayon, charcoal, ink, pencil, eraser and acrylic paint, are used expressively; artworks are distressed through various means to explore rich textural possibilities of medium. I bring a tactile quality to images, many sourced from historical photos so that the past is symbolically embodied in the present.
Processing history with an attitude of compassion makes the past relevant to lived experience. Eschewing a reliance on narrative allows for an understanding of human tragedy that cannot be explained by simple stereotypes that split people into good or evil, right or wrong, us and them. The reality is that these categories used to try to explain the complexities of the world are blurred and mixed up in the life of every human being.