Weapons aren't meant to be 'Child's Play'

Booties made of bullets, knit landmines provoke thought

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Child's Play exhibit

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, many feel society has begun to tolerate the bloodshed caused by military machinery.

Such themes as the commonality of military weaponry in contemporary society are explored in McIntosh Gallery’s latest exhibit, Child’s Play.

The exhibit features the work of two Canadian artists, Newfoundland’s Barb Hunt and Hamilton’s Jamie Owen. The artists use two drastically different, but equally effective, techniques to comment on how integrated the notion of war has become in our culture.

At first glance, Hunt’s anti-personnel exhibit resembles a baby girl’s nursery. Featuring 18 hand-knitted pieces in various shades of pink, Hunt’s artwork exudes a sense of newborn innocence.

Once the initial cute and cuddly feelings simmer down, the less heartwarming essence of the exhibit comes to light. The small and delicate pieces of yarn are actually replicas of anti-personnel landmines.

The replicas are part of a larger project Hunt began in 1998 after attending Handicap International’s event “Pyramid of Shoes” where shoes were collected into a large pile and donated in solidarity with people who had lost limbs to landmines.

Since then, Hunt has completed between 75-80 replicas, and hopes to eventually knit one of every type of landmine. With between 250-350 types in existence now and more being developed, Hunt admits this will likely be a lifelong project.

The self-proclaimed anti-violence artist has long used art as a method to express her opinions.

“Art for me is a way to express political commentary but also personal commentary,” Hunt explains. “I’m very passionate about women and children and animals, and most often landmines harm women and children and animals, and these people are innocent.”

Hunt’s exclusive use of pink calls attention to the impact landmines have on women and children worldwide. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates children under 15 make up 30 to 40 per cent of landmine casualties and in some countries comprise the majority.

Child's Play exhibit

Moreover, the feminine shade has a deeper meaning within Hunt’s art. Having used pink since the 1970s after a teacher told her she shouldn’t use it in art, Hunt considers it her signature colour.

“It’s subversive. You walk into an art gallery and you see pink art, and you think, ‘Hey, this person is not following the rules,’” Hunt explains. “I like the connotations of softness that pink has. It feels gentle. And the wool is soft, too.”

Owen’s contrasting exhibit, “Target Market,” uses art in a more masculine sense to portray a similar message. Evoking a larger focus into the economic and industrial side of war, Owen also uses replicas of weapons to make a political point.

The most striking piece in the exhibit is the larger-than-life handgun that lies on the floor in the middle of the room. An oversized entertainment cabinet shaped like a gun is also displayed. These two dominating pieces are suggestive of the impact weapons have, not just in a local sense, but on the global stage as well.

Like Hunt, Owen also calls special attention to war’s effect on children. The piece “Baby Boy Bullet Booties” uses bullets to replicate a pair of toddler shoes.

“Shopper in Training” is arguably the most explicit comment on the commodification of war in the exhibit.

Consisting of a shopping cart overflowing with everything from handguns to machine guns, it’s a political statement that’s impossible to ignore.

“His work is so effective, and I love the contrast,” Hunt says of Owen’s exhibit. “But we’re saying the same things. We’re both equally concerned about what’s going on.”

Child’s Play will be showing at the McIntosh Gallery until Dec. 9.

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