For the launch of its new permanent galleries on World War II, London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) decides to tell the story of one of the darkest moments in modern history through art. In collaboration with artist Joe Cruz, the museum releases a limited edition of six prints that reinterpret the historical archive to highlight the global dimensions of the conflict.
In a recent survey conducted for IWM, less than half of respondents are aware of India’s wartime contribution to the Allies during World War II. Similarly, many British Empire colonies were hard pressed for manpower and resources. Excluding volunteers, many were exploited and forced into hard labor to contribute to the terrible cause, the same faces that risk being lost in the pages of history today.
To highlight “their strength, heroism and hard work” that characterized life in the colonies during the conflict, Joe Cruz chooses a bright style, able to transform historical B/W shots into strong and vivid compositions. His goal is to show the dramatic experiences that involved people from all parts of the globe. In doing so, the artist gives us his own personal key: “I wanted my creations to be bold and energetic to convey both the full force of the subjects” – he tells Creative Boom in an interview – “and to take them into a hyper-acidic and unreal realm that strays away from romance and nostalgia.”
In this way, Joe Cruz dyes the uniforms of the men who were trained in the use of bombs and those employed in signal units with electric blue, since they were literate. The sky is colored with fluorescent tones, along with the veils of the nuns who assist the civilians of Gibraltar, forced to leave the hospitals, while the bright yellow uniforms of the African soldiers show us how they were often recruited in unarmed work units. Each photograph reveals a different aspect of the “war machine”, symbolically representing the work of all hands exploited by the Crown to continue the conflict. The poet Fernando Pessoa states that art describes things for “how they are felt, how one feels they should be”, this is perhaps the reason that leads Cruz to move away from the somber tones, to surprise us with a story that emphasizes its mistakes in order to be reborn.
With a poetics that spans art, design, graphics and fashion, Joe Cruz keeps us suspended between photographic shots that resemble garish paintings, in a mixed media approach.