The Gulf War 1990 - 1991: Photographs by John Keane
'It's only really after the event that things began to sink in. Because at the time when I was there I was too busy dealing with the immediacy of what was happening in front of me...' John Keane being interviewed by Imperial War Museum, August 1992.
Marking twenty years since the Gulf War 1990 - 1991, Imperial War Museum North in Manchester presents a small but powerful display of photographs taken by renowned artist John Keane. Accompanied by quotes from an interview with Keane, this display gives a unique glimpse into the conflict, sparked by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
These images stand alone as an eye-witness record of the build up and aftermath of the conflict. But they were also used as inspiration for Keane's paintings of the Gulf War, giving us an insight into Keane's creative processes as an artist.
This collection of photographs, some of which are on public display for the first time, were taken by Keane when commissioned by the Imperial War Museum as their 'official recorder' in the Gulf. Afforded the same access rights as the press, he preferred to call himself a 'commentator' and opted to use a camera and video recorder, instead of the more traditional sketchbook, to document his experiences. Keane arrived in Saudi Arabia in February 1991, just prior to the Coalition Forces' 'Desert Storm' offensive to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion. He spent his first weeks with British troops training in the desert, followed by a short stay on a Royal Naval ship in the Persian Gulf. Images taken during this time will be included in the display.
After the swift Coalition victory he spent five days in the liberated and massively despoiled Kuwait City. During this time he witnessed the cataclysmic burning of the oil wells and appalling destruction of the Basra Road. Keane's image of an abandoned shopping trolley containing a pile of Iraqi RPG 7 rocket warheads and scenes of devastation in Kuwait City are referenced in his painting Mickey Mouse at the Front, 1991 which is on display in the Museum's Main Exhibition Space. The infamous Highway 80, later known as the Highway of Death, is the focus of a number of Keane's photographs, showing scenes of Kuwaiti children celebrating the liberation of Kuwait City with the ravaged landscapes and the debris of the conflict shown all around. These images are depicted in the painting Scenes on the Road to Hell, which is also on display in the Main Exhibition Space at Imperial War Museum North.
Find out more about the Gulf War 1990 - 1991 by visiting the Museum's Main Exhibition Space, see Keane's paintings and items from the conflict at the end of the Timeline, including the helmet of 17 year old Private Vincent Stott of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots, who was one of the youngest British soldiers to serve in the Gulf War. These items sit alongside more recently acquired items from the Iraq War 2003.
The Imperial War Museum holds unparalleled collections of art and photography, including work by Keane, covering all aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict involving Britain and the Commonwealth. The art collection includes over 19, 000 paintings, and the photography archive holds more than 10 million images. Imperial War Museum is still actively commissioning artists to respond to conflicts today.
Jim Forrester, Imperial War Museum North Director, said: 'Imperial War Museum North shows how war shapes lives and we are marking the twentieth anniversary of the Gulf War 1990 - 1991 with this new display of photographs, providing unique insight into the conflict through the eyes of artist John Keane. We hope our visitors will be moved and inspired by Keane's images.'
Imperial War Museum North
Trafford Wharf Road
Manchester M17 1TZ
Telephone: +44 (0)161 836 4000
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