Across its five sites, the Imperial War Museum explores and records the history of armed conflict from World War One up until the present day. But the story of war cannot be told without addressing the humanitarian crisis that comes with it; the impact beyond the front line, upon civilian lives and country infrastructures. This could be considered the ‘war zone’ that many aid workers operate within – a territory besieged by its own battery of practical, emotional, psychological and ethical challenges, set against a backdrop of wider geopolitical crossfire.
Ethics Under Fire at IWM North concentrates on this surrounding narrative, focusing specifically on the work carried out by aid organisations and the moral dilemmas they face, asking questions such as: How do they choose who to help or which risks to take? And, can their presence do more harm than good? Much of this is explored through the lens of very recent and ongoing conflicts, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from which over 17.5 million people have collectively fled.
The exhibition also presents powerful first-hand accounts of individuals’ experiences in the field, outlining the physical and mental challenges faced, and features scenario-based interactives designed to help visitors consider how they might respond to complicated decisions about the reach of aid, funding, responsibility and risk themselves. Experience this alongside photographs, personal belongings, and objects, such as the Médecins Sans Frontières Land Cruiser, an iconic vehicle associated with aid work, and the IKEA Better Shelter, an innovative shelter designed for refugees.
With the effectiveness of aid organisations often brought into question, and aspects of their conduct attracting deep criticism of late, Ethics Under Fire promises to be a timely exhibition that offers a considered look at the global story.