AFTERMATH PROJECT OPENING NIGHT (13 FEBRUARY 2014]

Jacques Rangasamy’s words:

"Last night, [13 February 2014) John Ryland library hosted the opening of "Aftermath", an exhibition of works by level five students Angela Nichols, Barbara Foulkes, Paul Carling, Gemma Dunn, Adreece Suleman and Suzanne Smith and of an old friend of the programme, the artist Allan Birch. Birch displayed three exquisite etchings inspired by one of Goya’s famous prints on the horrors of war but which reflected on the ways modern warfare exceeded the gloomiest expectation of the great Spanish artist. The Salford students on the other hand responded to letters that soldiers wrote to one of their former teachers in Manchester, and which is now housed in the archives of the John Rylands library. The project unfolded over several months, enabling the students to connect with the spirit of the young soldiers and harvest their thoughts and musing about the unaffordable luxury of a personal future, contained mostly in between the lines. It has been said that only the soul can come into meaningful contact with the pain, despair and sublimated hope of others, contact that only art and music in turn can translate effectively into communicable form. Indeed, the students allowed the thoughts of the young soldiers to resonate in their own consciousness and to suggest the visual language best suited to the communion of sensibilities. The result is remarkable. Such creative situations are rich in lessons for all our students, and make the show eminently worthy of a reflective visit.

The work is displayed in glass cases alongside other historical material, creating a seamless connection, however temporary, with the extraordinary event being celebrated. The students’ poetic evocation of the soldier’s silenced voices offered an interesting contrast with the official war documents from the time and even the archival photographs and other documentation of the aftermath of the war. History and historians have a way of disentangling the lives and fates of people from the larger abstract phenomena of war, thus immunising against moral questioning the kings, Kaisers and politicians’ prerogative to wage war and to impose the burden of enmity upon people who would otherwise co-exist in relative peace. The language of conflict and its justificatory aftermath is often reduced to clichés; its purpose is to express and affirm ownership of the moral norms, rather than offer consolation. This makes the discourse of the students even more interesting. For the official and historical version of events decide and determine the end of each soldier’s story. The students, in a subtle contestation of officialdom, provide their story with continuity; their work provided the agency that brought lives betrayed to war into a present the soldiers only dreamt of.

The war of the trenches reduced the participants into empty suits of armour, alive to conflict but soulless. Writing the letters enabled them to create a space where they could reconnect with their soul and renew reflective contact with the very kernel of civilisation that a humanist education guards effectively. Seamus Healey once called Nadine Gordimer, the noted anti-apartheid campaigner and writer “a guerrilla of the imagination”. Healey thus highlighted one of the most distinctive services the imagination can render, and that is to provide a space for the multi-dimensionality of selfhood, at a time when compliance to the imperatives of war diminish both soldiers and civilians. I came away thinking that the epistolary yearnings of the soldiers attracted a poetic response from our students that the soldiers would have enjoyed. To make audible the silenced voices from the soldiers’ heart is perhaps the most appropriate trans-generational homage they, and anyone else, could ever pay to their sacrifices.

Please go and see this very moving show.”

Jacques