Recently, I visited Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The galleries were full, with visitors of all ages and many nationalities engaging with the profound and thought-provoking displays. It was heartening to find the RA confronting the issues raised by Ai Weiwei through his work in a measured, sensitive and deeply thoughtful way. Visitors are encouraged to take photographs and share them through social media. Ai Weiwei’s work speaks for itself and testifies to the power of art to make us think about other people’s lives, the problems they face when they do not live in a democratic society where freedom of expression is taken for granted, and what we can do to help bring about change for the better.
Blown Away, a sculpture by Sioban Coppinger FRBS made from bronze leaves for The Garden Gallery’s 2014 exhibition, Echoes in the Memory, had a profound effect on many people. The exhibition was inspired by T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and thoughts of remembrance and commemoration in the centenary year of the outbreak of WW1. How do we remember a beloved person and keep the flame alive? Sioban Coppinger responded to Eliot’s poignant lines, “… Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future …”. The image of the young man she created, “his life fleeting as a gust of leaves”, resonated with the many people who saw the sculpture, bearing witness to the power of art to stir our feelings and our thoughts.
The Thornflower, a bronze and steel sculpture by Charlotte Mayer FRBS is a quiet call for peace and reconciliation. It was made as an expression of the pain felt and carried by Charlotte for decades following the death of her beloved grandmother in Treblinka. The sculpture commands attention and contemplation and must not be rushed. It speaks of the horrors of the Holocaust, and of the cruelty and atrocities perpetrated since, and which will be committed in the future. Its still compelling presence, the juxtaposition of vicious thorns dominated by gentle petals, is unsettling, yet also reassuring. As the season for Remembrance approaches, The Thornflower offers a focus for our thoughts about those who have died horribly, and calls us to consider how we can help to save others from similar fates.