2018 marks 60 years since the beginning of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); the largest single-issue peace campaign in Europe, founded at the height of the Cold War in response to the detonation of Britain’s first hydrogen bomb. The organisation continues to lobby against a range of current issues today, including Trident, US missile defence policy, and the widespread use of nuclear power. To mark the anniversary, Millennium Gallery in Sheffield is launching Art Against War; a new exhibition dedicated to the haunting yet iconic work of Peter Kennard – the artist behind some of the CND’s most powerful images, which eventually became etched onto the public consciousness.
One of Britain’s leading political artists – perhaps most famous for his depiction of Tony Blair taking a selfie in front of an oilfield explosion in Iraq – Kennard first rose to prominence in 1968 with an early body of work in response to the Vietnam War. Since then, his career (straddling a wide range of forms and genres, from photomontage and installation to painting) has been defined by a darkly satirical outlook, which he has applied with timely acuity to many of the most troubling geo-political events of the day – most recently including the bombing of Syria and the refugee crisis. He has appeared in publications such as New Scientist, The Guardian and New Statesmen among others.
Several of Kennard’s most well-known pieces feature among the over 100-strong selection presented in Art Against Protest. Look out for Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1981); a subversive reworking of John Constable’s The Hay Wain (1821), in which three nuclear warheads have been inserted into the idyllic British pastoral scene. The surreal, highly-charged image was made by Kennard in response to government proposals at the time to position US nuclear cruise missiles in rural East Anglia, supported by a series of propagandistic leaflets issued by the Ministry of Defence portraying the missiles in delicate watercolours.
In many ways it is unfortunate that Kennard’s work remains as prescient as ever; the threat of nuclear devastation having by no means lessened over time. For this reason, Art Against Protest should prove a fascinating follow-on from the gallery’s current exhibition, Hope is Strong, which explores the power of art to question and challenge the turbulent times we are currently living through. Speaking of the upcoming launch, Kennard commented: “I’m proud to be showing my work at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, a city where protest against the horrors of war and dissent against inequality have been integral to its people throughout history. It’s 60 years since CND was formed, we need to campaign against nuclear weapons and the proliferation of weaponry and arms dealing now more than ever.”