The IWM-North is located next to the Manchester Ship Canal in the regenerated Salford Quays area - near to the city centre. I visited this iconic Manchester building earlier in the year because I thought the exhibition - Once Upon A Wartime (which explores five well know children books about war) - might be of interest to me for my personal project. The book I was most interested in was “War Horse” by Michael Morpurgo.
The very modern building, designed by Daniel Libeskind to dramatically symbolise three shards of a shattered globe; the Earth Shard (lying down); the Air Shard (pointing into the air; and the Water Shard - represents how war has shattered our world.
The museum is free although you are encouraged to make a donation or buy a guide - to keep it this way and although you do “exit via the gift shop” your also enter this way!
The Once Upon A Wartime exhibition opens with War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, then takes the visitor on through Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailier and finally Little Soldiers by Bernard Ashley. The exhibition is very interactive and seemed to be much enjoyed by the parties of visiting school children.
The War Horse section features scripts and props from the recent Steven Spielberg film of the book. It also included the original painting which inspired the book. There were lots of original items/photographs/letters all showing the terrible conditions these poor war horses had to endure. I found myself crying through most of the exhibition - my own horse has the kind of build that would have made her a suitable candidate to have been requisitioned by the army - and to think of her going off to war was unbearable. There was a very poignant letter from some children asking if their pony could be spared from being called up.
The main exhibition space is in the earth shard of the building. It holds the National Imperial War collection for 1914 onwards. This is a timeline of the major conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition to this area there are five “silos” that concentrate on the human aspect of war. Every hour
this main exhibition area becomes one huge projection screen for the “Big Picture Show”. This is a series of six films that are screened all around the room, telling the stories of war through photographs, art and commentary. Besides the War Horse exhibition, this was one of my favourite pieces. The projection of the images onto all the surfaces was very effective. My all-time favourite plane - the Harrier Jump Jet was also exhibited here - so that was great to see - up close and personal! Another very simple piece was a series of small model bomber planes hanging from a grid of timber with a spotlight behind it. This put much larger shadows of the bombers onto the ground.
The hope of the IWM is that the visitor will go away from their visit and reflect on how war and conflict affect us all and that they will re-visit the museum to gain a better understanding. I certainly enjoyed my trip to the museum and if I decide to choose War Horse as my personal theme, I will take a lot away from this exhibition.