War & Peace: Welsh Pupils Selected for Prestigious Arts Project with Swansea University and Imperial War Museums

Throughout June, the artistic works of over 100 secondary school pupils from south-east Wales are on display at Cardiff’s Pierhead Building – after the pupils took part in a pioneering memorial project, led by Swansea University and Imperial War Museums, with artist Siôn Tomos Owen.      

The project ‘War and Peace: Welsh Schools Remember War & Conflict’ has been running since January 2023 and sent renowned artist Sion Tom Owen into six Welsh-medium schools to create bespoke memorials with the pupils – a first for the schools.      

The project is part of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, a UK-wide partnership programme of over 20 artist commissions inspired by the heritage of conflict. Led by Imperial War Museums, the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund was created following the success of 14-18 NOW, the official UK arts programme for the First World War centenary. It is funded by royalties from Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old.      

Led by Swansea University historian Dr Gethin Matthews, War and Peace encouraged school children to design their own memorials to commemorate the World Wars and discover the long-term impact of conflict on their communities. Without conferring, the pupils at all six schools chose to create ‘peace memorials’, instead of art glorifying War.      

Lowri, pupil from Ysgol Gwynllyw, said: “What a brilliant experience! We learned so much about the history of our local area and the history of the First World War in general. It was great to see history at work in real life and then to create our own mural to commemorate. Thanks to Dr Gethin Matthews and Siôn Tomos Owen for the opportunity.”      

The memorials will be showcased for public view in Cardiff Bay’s Pierhead Building from 27 June to 26th July, before moving to Rhondda Heritage Park where they’ll go on display until September 2023. The memorials will then return to each School from September.      

Dr Gethin Matthews, Swansea University Historian in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, said: “Since no Welsh schools built after 1945 have their own memorials to the World Wars, schoolchildren are often unaware of the impact war and conflict has had upon their communities – even if there are memorials in their local area.      

“During the project, we took the children to memorials in their communities and the children quickly noticed that there are issues with a number of the older memorials; they tend to have wording and convey images which are very much of their time, but which may not be thought appropriate today. ‘Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori’ is a motto which can be found on many older memorials, meaning ‘It is sweet and proper to die for your country’. The phrase was famously scorned by the First World War poet Wilfred Owen as ‘The old Lie’.      

“So, with the support of Imperial War Museums, we set out to introduce today’s youngsters to the wealth of war memorials in their area, to explore how the wars of the twentieth century left their scars upon their communities, and to encourage them to create their own, contemporary memorials, to convey their thoughts, hopes and aspirations for the future.      

“We think their creations are thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring. What’s most heartening is that when given the chance to create war memorials, all the pupils opted for peace memorials.”   The project ties into Dr Matthews’ wider research into the significance of war memorials to Welsh communities and the pattern of commemoration – highlighting how memorials have changed over time, with many being lost through the decades.      

Rebecca Newell, Head of Art at Imperial War Museums said: “We are moved and inspired by the school pupils’ engagement and creative responses to histories of conflict. Through the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, we are delighted to support such important work with Swansea University and our other commissions across the United Kingdom.”      

To find out more about Swansea University’s history research, visit https://www.swansea.ac.uk/history/. For details of Imperial War Museums’ 14-18 NOW Fund, visit: https://www.iwm.org.uk/partnerships/subject-specialist-network/14-18-now-legacy-fund

Videos and photographs taken at the June exhibition launch at Pier Head, Cardiff Bay.

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