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Bearing Witness? Violence and Trauma on Paper

Spanning almost 400 years, this display of prints and drawings explores some of the ways artists have responded to political violence and social injustice. Drawn from collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the display surveys different forms of witnessing: works by artists who had direct experience of horrors, or who grew up in the shadow of terrible events; those who were commissioned to give visual form to the words of others, and those who assimilate in their work the trauma of distant ordeals.

The display asks us to think about how violence can be understood or appreciated through art. These artists bear witness to the collectivity of violence, but their works are also about looking. Each tries to draw us in to contemplate their challenging image, sometimes with the intention to shock, but always with the intention to mesmerize. What does it mean to witness violence even at a remove, even years after the events depicted?

The display showcases a recent acquisition of 20 prints by contemporary artist, Marcelle Hanselaar, and is juxtaposed alongside other historic, modern, and contemporary prints and drawings from the permanent collection and loans from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, including works by the Chapman Brothers, Goya, Jane Joseph, Manet, Picasso, and Judy Watson.

Bearing Witness? contains images of trauma, violence, and death.

Image: Warring Couple from the set The Crying Game by Marcelle Hanselaar, 2015. © MarcelleHanselaar

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