Steve McQueen To Reveal Iraq War Commission In Manchester

By Caroline Lewis | 09 February 2007
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portrait of a man with a serious expression

Steve McQueen. Portrait by Thierry A Bal

In the run-up to the first Manchester International Festival, artist Steve McQueen is to reveal a new work created in response to the second Iraq war.

The artwork, which will open to the public on February 28 2007 at Manchester Central Library, has been commissioned by the Festival and the Imperial War Museum.

McQueen has been an Official War Artist covering operations in Iraq at the behest of the Imperial War Museum's Art Commissions Committee (see 24HM article from 2003). Since then, he has been working on an idea embodying national loss, intimate reflection and the ultimate sacrifice. The results will be a symbolic gesture and fitting tribute to individual servicemen and women who have lost their lives in defence of their country.

“One of my ambitions for the Manchester International Festival was to invite major artists to respond to urgent issues of our time,” said Alex Poots, Director of the Festival. “It’s significant that an artist of Steve McQueen’s stature has agreed to work with our festival and IWM to create such an important memorial.”

McQueen won the ICA Futures Award in 1996, the Turner Prize in 1999 and has had numerous solo shows. He was awarded the OBE in 2002.

He was keen for the commissioned work to be public, a widely noticed memorial having as much exposure as possible, circulating in everyones’ lives, at home and at work. This consideration brought him to create a series of postage stamps, each one featuring a photographic portrait of individuals who lost their lives in Iraq. The stamps, which are not real, but facsimiles, suggest what could be a national recognition of the sacrifices made in the Middle East.

photo of a futuristic structure

Imperial War Museum North © IWM North

The installation of stamp facsimiles, bearing unaltered portraits of soldiers, will be displayed in the Great Hall at Central Library, Manchester, from February 28 to July 15.

All the soldiers’ next of kin were contacted as part of the project to have their permission sought. Almost 100 supported the representation of their lost child, spouse or partner. McQueen acknowledges a debt of gratitude to all of them, citing the artwork as a collaboration with the families of the deceased.

The Imperial War Museum originally assigned McQueen the task of responding to the conflict in Iraq in 2003, when he journeyed to Basra. Since then he faced many difficulties putting together his work, but the camaraderie and commitment of British troops stationed in the warzone stayed with him. Manchester International Festival joined the IWM as co-commissioners to help with the realisation of the artwork.

“The Imperial War Museum is keen to support the creation of ambitious and original artwork through its Art Commissions Committee and welcomes the opportunity to work with MIF in this way,” commented Robert Crawford CBE, Director General of the IWM, “particularly as Imperial War Museum North in Manchester will celebrate its fifth birthday in 2007.”

Manchester International Festival will run from June 28 to July 15 2007, celebrating new works from art to music. The new festival will run every two years.

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