War Voices: Real Voices
This year sees the 100th anniversary of the 1st world war, which can seem distant and irrelevant for most when we are privileged in many, seemingly normal ways. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery have overcome this boundary in a refreshingly unique exhibit ‘War Stories’, which is currently available to view.
The exhibit focuses on 13 specific people’s lives before the war, how they became involved and how their stories are still relevant today. The room has been divided into equal spaces for all the stories, with none being given the limelight. This allows the viewer to not follow it in a linear fashion as we never have any cues to, allowing you to look at the dresses, photographs and letters to pinpoint which story you think will relate to you the most. You should not read stories which aren’t of interest to you: this isn’t the aim of the exhibit. Whilst every story is remarkably different, they are (and thus we are too) connected by the lives being cut short. They all had something they wanted to do in the future, may that be playing football, speaking their beliefs or just wanting to go home. Every story ends the same.
The exhibit is made accessible to all by the minimalist nature of it, and that is why I mainly recommend it. Violins play throughout, inexplicitly creating a slow and non-judgemental atmosphere. Whilst videos with headphones are put on a loop making it awkward waiting for the programme to restart, the rest gives no time limits or judgements on your route. Only key artefacts are given, allowing easy understanding. By focusing on ‘characters’ and not events, you start to understand on a moral level why World War 1 is so important to remember.
Even though the person involved is never truly with you, you can understand their pain. At the beginning of the exhibit in a plain black box are ‘War Diaries’, which have several diary entry spaces, allowing you to create your own story: you are going to war. This is your diary of your life, and sums up your story. Yes, it may seem like a children’s activity, but I applaud the exhibit for never implying this. I filled in the diary as I went along, and cried. I cried at each story realising that my story in my diary, like theirs, would end. Only my story was never real, which only made it more horrifying.
No one’s life should stop until you want it to: go to this exhibit and I’m sure you’ll agree.
The Gallery is open until the 1st March, but the Museum is putting on various events to commemorate the anniversary of World War 1. Pick up a leaflet or go to their website for more information.
By Robert Bone