Manchester Metropolitan University

Impact Case Study

The visual culture of social conflict in the public eye

Revitalising public understanding and awareness of the visual culture of conflict, revolutionising how we displays and exhibit works.

How it started

The University has a longstanding interest in visual representations of conflict and social change in the print media and the creative arts. Research has been underway since 1986.

What we did

Jim Aulich’s ‘Europe without Walls’, (1993) focussed on the visual culture of the collapse of communism in Europe, offering an early opportunity for Eastern European work to be exhibited in the UK.

Between 2003 and 2006, Jim led the ‘Posters of Conflict: The Visual Culture of Public Information and Counter Information’ research project.  8000 posters from the Imperial War Museum collection were catalogued and digitised as part of a database available through the Imperial War Museum website and the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS). Images of First World War Posters produced by the project have since been heavily featured on TV as part of the commemorations.

In2007/8, this database led to ‘Weapons of Mass Communication’, curated by Jim Aulich it was the first large-scale international exhibition of the Imperial War Museum poster collection since 1978 and attracted 47,000 visitors.

Researcher Fionna Barber looked at the visual discourses of conflict in Northern Ireland. Questions of representation, censorship, identity, memory and gender were all addressed.

This led to the editorship of a special issue of ‘Visual Culture in Britain’ (2009) where the articles were supplemented by artists’ pages and an interview with photographer Willie Doherty. The exhibition ‘Archiving Place and Time’ (APT) took place in 2009-10; followed by the monograph Art in Irelandin 2013.

Why it matters

Public and professional awareness of the visual culture of conflict and social chance has been enormously enhanced by the WMC exhibition and our other work.

"Approaches to the material had an important effect on our museological practices in relation to the understanding and display of the posters. The associated book sold 100 copies per week (1 in 18 visitors) with 1,400 sold at the museum in 2008."

Imperial War Museum

Advertising giant Sir Martin Sorrell opened a public seminar, emphasising the links between research and propaganda, publicity and advertising. There was also a public display of the work organised at Liverpool St Underground.

The exhibition gained international media headlines in The Times, Sydney Morning Herald, Independent on Sunday and The Times Literary Supplement. Joseph Heller reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review.

The book ‘Art in Ireland Since 1910’ and the APT exhibition established Fionna Barber as an international expert.

The Manchester launch, funded by the Irish Embassy, took place at Manchester Art Gallery and was opened by the Northern Irish Minister for Culture.

‘Art in Ireland’has been applauded as a ‘landmark publication’ and acknowledged as an ‘overview for the common reader…a starting point for further critical debate.’

Barber’s work has had impact through the NI Prison Memory Archive (PMA), where she contributed to two films, Inside Stories and We Were There: The Women Of Long Kesh / The Maze. All of whichstimulated debates around memories of the conflict.