In the Firing Line: women war artists, materiality and gendered remembrance of war
My research explores women war artists and their memories of working in and close to conflict zones, the images these women have created and continue to create in response to their experiences, and how the structures of authority, institutions and ideologies influence their work.
My project examines how the intimate dialogue between remembrance and materiality evident in under-researched and often hidden historic and contemporary sketches and drawings of conflict, created by British, Canadian and Australian official and unofficial women war artists, enrich vernacular cultural memories and imaginaries of war. My project focusses on images created by women war artists between 1914 and 2014, including work by Olive Maude-Cooke and Iso Rae (World War One), Sybil Craig and Ethel Gabain (World War Two), Linda Kitson (Falklands Conflict), and Gertrude Kearns (UN ISAF deployment to Afghanistan), and supplemented by small bodies of work or even single images created by other artists. I employ these sketches and drawings in challenging the prevailing patriarchal discourse surrounding conflict environments by disputing the established art historical notion that war art is a masculinised artistic genre, and by reconceptualising conflict zones as psychological spaces inclusive to women, as opposed to physically-geographically defined, exclusively masculine spaces. Thus, I aim to expose women war artists and their material representations of women’s experience of and contribution to conflict, and in so doing reposition their discourse at the front and centre of vernacular cultural memories of war.
Taking a gendered and spatial approach, this project innovatively combines methods from traditional and contemporary Art History and Memory Studies, creating a critical framework by which to conceptualise remembrance and materiality. By uniting these disciplines, this approach will demonstrate the value of art historical methods for the study of cultural memory; and make a contribution to the current Memory Studies methodology debate.