The renowned war artist John Keane has been commissioned by Christian Aid to produce a series of 11 new paintings for a new exhibition called Children in Conflict, which is due to at Wolverhampton Art Gallery on 24 November 2007.
Keane travelled to Angola, southern Africa with the churches' international development agency to visit post conflict projects funded by the charity and see for himself the issues faced by millions of young people living in this war torn country.
He visited two indigenous organisations that work in partnership with Christian Aid, SOS Habitat and IECA, working in the capital Luanda and the remote southerly area of Mavinga in Kuando Kubango province.
Keane spent time with children who had lost parents during the 27 year civil war, which ended in 2002, and saw how children and adults are working together to rebuild their communities. He also learnt that the spread of HIV is the next battle Angola’s 15 million inhabitants face.
John Keane said: "As a father of two, the plight of children in Angola invited poignant comparison. I met children who had endured horrific hardships, who had seen their parents murdered in front of them, had spent many years in Zambia as refugees; damaged children who have no choice but to hope the future will be better than their past."
He continued: "In the work I have produced I have attempted to evoke the huge tasks of reconstruction and reconciliation in the face of enormous odds, but at the same time allude to the indomitable optimism of the human spirit I encountered in the new generation of post-war Angolans which, in difficult moments, I felt was almost the only resource available to them."
Many of Keane’s pieces for this exhibition are large-scale figurative paintings with elements of collage and pattern evoking the Angolan culture and depicting the individuals whose stories moved him.
Almost half of Angola’s population is under the age of 15 and life expectancy is only 41 years. It has the third highest child mortality rate in the world with one in four children dying before their fifth birthday. This year Angola celebrates five years of peace but the road to full recovery will take much longer, it will need international assistance for many years to come.
Christian Aid has supported local organisations in Angola since 1985. It has classified Angola as a priority country as so much of its infrastructure has been destroyed. The work focuses on ensuring the government deliver on its promises to invest in infrastructure and development, the prevention of the spread of HIV and helping poor communities to improve their standard of living.
The Children in Conflict exhibition complements Keane’s paintings by bringing together high profile contemporary fine artists who have engaged with similar subjects.
Photography, photomontage, ceramics and installation by artists including Anthony Haughey, Laura Ford, Simon Norfolk, Emma Summers and Guy Tillim depict conflicts of the modern era across four continents.
Children in Conflict continues Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s exhibitions policy to collect and display art concerned with contemporary social and political issues, and will run concurrently with a display from the Gallery’s Northern Ireland Collection. Drawings by children attending the Christian Aid partner ‘Culture and Free Thought Association’ in Gaza will also be displayed.
Children in Conflict will run until 16 February 2008 in the new contemporary £6.7 million extension at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which opened this spring, and will tour the UK in 2008.