The exhibition “the Sensory War 1914-2014” at Manchester Art Gallery examined the effect of war on humans and nature throughout a century. At the beginning of her talk, Dr. Ana Carden-Coyne said that war is artistic. And indeed war is artistic even though at the same time it is cruel, destructive, and deadly. Some of the questions posted during her presentation showed insight of how difficult it must be to curate such an exhibition. How should war be remembered? Which artwork should be shown? And who gets to speak for the deaths?
The artwork of Käthe Kolhwitz particularly struck me. Kohlwitz’s 18 year-old son Peter voluntarily joined the German military in 1914 and was killed only 10 days afterwards. Ever after the death of her son, Kohlwitz incorporated the grief, sorrow, and hardship of war in her artwork. A early sketch of the grieving parents shows a couple who has just lost their child in the battlefield. They both tightly hold on to each other and mourn together. Kohlwitz made a monument of “the parents” for her son’s grave. The couple is kneeling down, the man upright and the woman’s head down. This time the parents do not grief arm in arm but are separated by their sorrows.
Käthe Kohlwitz was the first woman to be elected to join the Prussian Academy of Arts. However, when Hilter came to power in 1933 she was expelled from the Academy. Three years later her art was removed from all galleries because the Nazis feared that Käthe Kohlwitz powerful art could work against their war propaganda of dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country).