Political Art: War

Nothing grabs attention like images of war.


The 2000 Yard Stare by Tom Lea

It generates some of the most powerful, striking and emotional imagery, which can highlight causes, sell papers, and can make or break political careers.

This has taken on new meaning in the information age, with the magnified ability for these scenes to reach a wider audience.

Global Voices 

The concept of warfare has always been kept black & white by the authorities on either side of the conflict.

However, this is quickly changing as the internet has opens up the ability for both sides of the two sides of the story; even the Taliban opened their own YouTube channel, Istiqlal Media, though it’s no longer active.

Just as with the smartphone, the digitisation and miniaturisation of cameras mean that the images generated from war now largely come from the front-line troops with head mounted cameras, or, more pointedly, from civilians caught in the conflict.

idf prop

IDF pictures on Twitter

November 2012 in the Gaza Strip 

Both the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas began reporting the conflict on Twitter, with their own propaganda set up to emphasize their respective causes.

But here, the internet allowed Palestinian citizens to show to the world the extent to which the Israeli bombardment had torn apart Gaza, and as a result they began steadily winning the media war. The Palestinians continue to gather support from international bodies with graphic scenes highlighting the civilian death toll.

Syria, civilians

Civilians in the Syrian civil war

Similarly, as the civil war drags on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is coming under increasing international condemnation, pressure and sanctions, as the Free Syrian Army utilise internet for PR warfare.

The Legacy of Abu Graib

AG Rumsfeld EconomistOne of the most shocking cases of the realities of what war can bring people to were pictures which surfaced from Iraqi Prison, Abu Graib.

The sensation this caused engulfed the already controversial Iraq war, showing American troops torture and abuse the very people they set out to liberate.

There were a reported 1,800 pictures of the abuse at the Iraqi prison though one in particular gained the most attention and notoriety. The image spread the world over; the Hooded Man became the symbol of the aggressive, unethical, and brutal methods the U.S. had begun to use.

The Vietnam war was defined by Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of Kim Phuc as a naked child running from her napalmed village. The second Gulf War was defined by images of Americans torturing Iraqi prisoners.

Abu GhraibOne of the most interesting aspects of the images from Abu Graib is that they are not ‘art’ in the typical sense, though they have become so. The fact that these images were taken by the perpetrators adds to the weight and effectiveness of the nature of conflict.

Images such as these did more for social commentary, political change and the spread of information than most any artist could ever achieve. They became a form of art independent of the artist.

They go to show how the world has changed, and many preconceptions of art have altered along with it.


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