If Cameron’s “blunt” over Gaza’s suffering, artist Osi Osmond’s a sledge-hammer

The invasion of Gaza by artist Osi Osmond. A section of a much larger drawing, detailing a chaotic and horrifying scene

Image: Osi Osmond

“Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” Cameron’s statement in Turkey earlier this week has been seen as a dramatic assertion – further than any British minister had gone before in their assessment of the situation.

The BBC cited it as an example of Cameron’s refreshing candour, stating:

“David Cameron often pitches himself as a realist, a pragmatic politician more interested in solving problems than being hitched to ideology […] He prides himself on being straight with people – refreshing, perhaps, for a Westminster politician.”

Yet however refreshing you may find this, it is little more than empty words with no policy to support the people of Gaza who have suffered devastating crimes against humanity – I suspect they would find his “refreshing” words less than reassuring.

The invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008 sent shockwaves throughout the world, not least because of devastating number of civilian casualties. The media bombarded us with graphic images of the victims; for many of us these images have been carved into our consciousness and continue to haunt us.

Bringing the conflict home

A year later and the artist Osi  Osmond brought the horrors of the conflict quite literally onto my doorstep, in an exhibition that questions our cultural acceptance of war and violence.

Artist Osi Osmond, in front of his drawing of a war-torn Llansteffan beach, challenges our cultural acceptance of war and violence

Image: Osi Osmond

Osi and I live in a small coastal village in west Wales called Llansteffan; in his highly emotive exhibition there were three large drawings depicting terrifying, chaotic scenes of war on Llansteffan beach.  “When they started bombing Gaza I realised that the Gaza strip is about the same size as the coastline and water that I see from my garden in Llansteffan,” explained Osi, “so I was struck by the image of a million and a half people down there with bombs and rockets falling on them.” This vision was further reinforced by the constant sound of bombing and machine gunning, which drifts over the water to Llansteffan from the military base in Pembrey.

Over the years the fact that the Welsh coastline is being used for military practice is something that has gnawed away at Osi. He said:

“I wanted people to begin to understand that our coastline, as beautiful as it is, is used as an instrument of war.”

This really struck home for Osi a few summers ago when his three grandsons were on the beach playing in the water. “There were bombs dropping behind them”,  said Osi. “They didn’t take any notice but I was thinking, ‘God if we were in a different part of the world those bombs could be dropping on them – they’d be dead, they’d be in bits’.”

The exhibition, which consists of a body of paintings, three large drawings and several watercolours, takes the viewer on a series of emotional journeys and reflects the artist’s great love of poetry; engraved within three of the drawings are the words of the poets Waldo Williams, Mahmoud Darwish and Frank Bidart.

Image: Osi Osmond

Pacifist Osi, who has travelled extensively throughout the Middle East  spending time in war-torn areas such as Palestine and Sudan, demonstrates that this cultural acceptance of violence and war is not only devastating for the victims but also for those carrying out the atrocities. One area of the exhibition, The Soldiers’ Wall, depicts young men gripped by terror.  “Often soldiers go in to war looking gung-ho and heroic, and they end up terrified”, said Osi. “They become victims themselves, damaged through psychological trauma.”

A soldier looks on in horror. Osi is interested in the human image, especially when people are in moments of tension or peril. He tries to capture and freeze those moments

Image: Osi Osmond

Lying just around the corner from The Soldiers’ Wall is the Dead Children’s Wall. Osi said:

“When people discover that those six images are of dead children they are often disgusted, but we need to face that reality. We need to be more vigilant, to question what our culture, our society, and our politics are doing. The atrocities that are carried out in our name is something that people don’t really think about, and they need to.”

Image from the “Dead Children’s Wall”

Image: Osi Osmond

Osi is not only concerned about how our politics and culture affects other nations, but also how it curbs our own freedoms. Talking of the anti-terrorism laws Osi said: “Our governments, along with the American and most European governments, are keen to instil fear within us. They want us to be afraid so they can get away with whatever they like. I’m as equally afraid of the governments reaction to terrorists, as I am of the terrorists themselves.”

Evoking the Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”, Osi’s work is a response to the very interesting times that we are living in.

Before the BBC state that any politician is  “more interested in solving problems than being hitched to ideology”, maybe they should think a little harder about our cultural and political ideologies that accept war as a means of control.

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An environmental journalist and communications trainer, Bethan specialises in nature conservation and social justice

Posted in Art

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