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"Rozanne Hawksley: War and Memory" opens at the Royal Museums Greenwich
Installation view of the exhibition.

GREENWICH.- This summer Rozanne Hawksley: War and Memory opened in the Queen’s House. One of the UK’s most emotive artists, Rozanne Hawksley’s art explores the nature and meaning of the commemoration and memorialization of war and considers the impact of conflict on combatants, family, friends and ultimately the nation. Rozanne Hawksley: War and Memory features a new work alongside acclaimed pieces including Seamstress and the Sea, Prisoner, and Pale Armistice.

The exhibition occupies four rooms, each with a different theme – loss, trauma, mourning and memory – in the pertinent setting of the Queen’s House, once a school for sailors. The ideas of mourning is being explored with Hawksley’s new installation, Full Fathom Five. This new piece consists of a memorial placed upon a catafalque in the midst of a black draped room. In the centre is a First World War wreath made from sailors’ silk, cap tallies, parts of the Union Jack and original silk poppies from the 1920s.

The Seamstress and the Sea, one of Hawksley’s seminal works, occupies the first room. Modified and expanded with each showing, the installation typifies the slow gestation of much of her work. It began by drawing upon her own family background and her experiences as a child growing up in Portsmouth with her grandmother, Alice, who made sailors’ collars. However, with over 10 separate pieces it grew to become a memorial to hundreds of men and women who served or died at sea.

Alice’s World, a drawing on canvas charting the area around Portsmouth’s Dockyard and Naval Base, depicts the horror of war, with obliterating dots marking where the bombs fell during the Second World War. Other objects are bound together by their connection to stitching: a collage of sewing paraphernalia, reconstructed collar patterns, a toile, and in the same material, a body bag intended for a sailor’s burial at sea. The installation becomes the story of a seaman’s life, from the making of his collar to his shroud, and finally, with Memorial Wreath, the commemoration of his soul.

The next room, with the theme of trauma, juxtaposes Prisoner with three portraits by the official war artist Eric Kennington. Prisoner is the bleakest and most intensely felt of Hawksley’s work but also the least specific. It shows the impact that war had not only on those on the front line but the families and friends left behind. In contrast Kennington’s pastels depict three men who witnessed horrific acts of war and showed immense bravery but hide behind stoic images.

The final element of Rozanne Hawksley: War and Memory focuses on memory and remembrance. Sir Galahad began as a testament to those lost and injured on RFA Sir Galahad, which became an official war grave after being hit twice during the Falklands War. Begun in 1987 this work was left as an exposed, mutilated clay and wax figure on a rough wooden cross until, in 2008, it was veiled to indicate Hawksley’s indignation of the lack of public acknowledgment for soldiers returning from Iraq. One of Hawksley’s most recognised works Pale Armistice: in death only are we united, also made in the wake of the Falklands campaign, is a wreath made from white gloves representative of all people who have fought some kind of battle.

The last three objects are a series of Sweetheart tokens. He always wanted to be a solider I and II were made in 2006 to portray the glory versus the reality of war: two pincushions that embody innocence and imagined glory on the one hand and reality in the form of a burnt ‘corpse’, or bird bones, on the other. To complete the comparison, the first has trio of bullet casings, the second spent bullets having been fired. The third Sweetheart token, Mission Accomplished, reflects a combination of the two themes. It is inscribed with names of battlefields and theatres of war and is a parody of the celebration of war in song, on stage and in film.

Rozanne Hawksley: War and Memory aligns Hawksley’s work with the programme of War Commemorations across Royal Museums Greenwich, including War Artists at Sea and Forgotten Fighters. The exhibition highlights the affiliation of Hawksely’s work with war and sea, and the history of the Queen’s House as a training establishment for boys preparing for both the Navy and Merchant Navy.

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