Lest We Forget? is the Imperial War Museum North’s powerful new exhibition exploring how British society remembers lives lost during WWI. Showcasing over 180 objects, the exhibition documents the cultural impact of the war. It is housed in the Special Exhibitions Gallery which has been completely redesigned for the purposes of the show. In the Gallery, visitors can explore ‘tunnels’ filled with personal mementos, watch wide-screen projections and experience a range of government-commissioned artworks from the time. Moving moments abound. There are photographs of mass unmarked graves and letters from the army informing families of their loss. We learn that some sought out psychics, while others made journals, plaques and plates to commemorate lost family members. These emotive sections are juxtaposed with press reports from the early 20th century which reveal public responses to official memorials, highlighting debates about how best to spend government funds, still relevant today. Refreshingly, various view points are presented throughout and the effect is that of allowing the past to engage with the present, if you will, rather than presenting how we remember WWI as a ‘done deal’. Paintings include works by John Singer Sargent and Paul Nash dating back to 1918, the paint seeming to amplify the violence depicted in this section of the exhibition. It’s another sobering reminder of the reality of warfare while informative exhibits, such as a section on the history of the remembrance poppy, which maps its journey from a simple, pressed flower sent home to loved ones and into the present day, offer another take on the past. As they leave visitors are asked to vote on whether we should always remember the First World War – or if, perhaps, it’s time to move on. The subject matter is undeniably challenging, but this is a deeply considered tribute that can’t help but encourage reflection.
Until Sun 24 Feb 2019, IWM North, The Quays, Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester M17 1TZ. Tel: 0207 416 5000, www.iwm.org.uk
Published on: Mon 4 Feb 2019