I’ve been working for a few weeks on an inter-curricular project with my three classes of 15 year olds that I teach. The whole project has been hung up around the theme of war and peace and has involved contributions from the art, physics, English, geography and history departments and possibly a few others too. My art part of the project was based on a couple of main points. Firstly that art can be used as a carrier of a serious message or opinion. Secondly, beauty is often a criteria that seems rather dominant in the minds of the pupils, but in this case, due to the seriousness of the subject matter, it wasn’t really appropriate or even relevant. And finally I wanted to try and make the work about real issues and real history.
With all this in mind and with the experience of a visit I made to Auschwitz in Poland a number of years ago I set about making an assignment that turned around the shocking sight of the mountains of shoes of the victims of the extermination camp that can still be seen by visitors. Lists of names of victims, the huge numbers involved and the scale of the camp make an impact, but these ‘leftovers’ marking individuals who died was truly shocking to me.
The resulting project, that is nearing completion now, has involved pupils using a shoe to make a three dimensional collage that documents conflicts in the period since the second world war. The photos here show the Auschwitz shoe stacks and the progress of the work of a few of the pupils. More documentation will doubtless follow when the project is complete, but the working process and the tone of the collages that the pupils have made has been great to see. This attitude has been reinforced by the poems that they have written on the themes we explored in the lessons, such as Goya’s 3rd May, Picasso’s Guernica and photography from Vietnam. These poems too will find a place in the project when they are finally added to the sole of each shoe.