SouthAfrica.info (Johannesburg)

15 November 2013

South Africa: Artist to Honour 'Lost Men' of WW1

A work by South African artist Paul Emmanuel has been included in France's official state commemoration of the centenary of the First World War next year.

Emmanuel's The Lost Men France was selected by a multidisciplinary committee of World War One experts from France and elsewhere.

The programme, which was launched in Paris on 7 November, begins next year and will run for four years, Nkosingiphile Khumalo, account executive at Art Source South Africa, said in a statement last week. Art Source SA are managing The Lost Men project.

Emmanuel's work will be shown near the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in the region of Picardie, northern France from July to October next year. The banners will be reinstalled during 2016 and 2018.

The Thiepval Memorial is a major war memorial to the more than 72 000 missing British and South African men who died on the Somme battlefields 1915 and 1918 and who have no known grave.

As a member of the Commonwealth, South Africa joined Britain in its fight against the German Empire, Khumalo says. Many South African soldiers, who would have been wearing British uniforms, died in the Verdun/Normandy/Delville Wood areas during 1916.

The Battle of Verdun is known as the single worst land battle ever fought; it had the most casualties ever recorded in any war in human history.

The Lost Men France engages with the 45-metre-high Thiepval monument and "visitors will encounter the ephemeral, temporary installation while walking down an adjacent farm road within view of and accessible from the Thiepval Memorial grounds".

"An anti-monument, it does not glorify war but asks questions about masculinity and vulnerability," Emmanuel writes on his website. "It questions the exclusion of certain people in traditional memorials - in particular black South African servicemen."

'Left to the wind'

The work will comprise a 600m stretch of "large, fragile, semi-transparent silk banners" which, unlike the Thiepval Memorial, will "depict the names of black and white South African servicemen and will include the names of soldiers from the other Allied Forces as well as those of German soldiers who died in battlefields all over the Western Front", says Emmanuel. It will "be a non-partisan artwork and makes no political statements".

The names were photographed after being pressed into the artist's body, without reference to rank, nationality or ethnicity. These banners will be hung in the landscape and "left to the wind".

In his speech at the projects' launch last week, French President Francois Hollande invited the public to this and other sites of remembrance by saying, "tracer des chemins de mémoire", or "trace the paths of memory".

Emmanuel researched First World War battles during his extended stay in France in 2012 while on a four-month residency supported by Institut Français.

In his artist's statement, Emmanuel writes: "I am, as many are, affected by these terrible historic battles. A war has lasting psychological effects that are passed from generation to generation; we lose humanity, gentleness and vulnerability, feeling, empathy and sensitivity.

"We lose dignity, treasured relationships, potentiality, hope and the future. We become defined by ideologies that can confine and define our world-view. As the Thiepval Memorial bears witness to the memory of thousands of lost servicemen, so The Lost Men France will also bear witness. It is a non-partisan artwork that aims to stimulate contemplation about all of this."

The Lost Men France is supported by La Mission du Centennaire de la Prèmiere Guerre Mondiale, Institut Français Paris and Johannesburg, and the National Arts Council of South Africa.

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