Nigel Steel - Imperial War Museums’ principal historian

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WHO: Nigel Steel, Imperial War Museums’ principal historian

WHAT: WW1 Centenary Exhibition

WHEN: 18 Apr-12 July

WHERE: Melbourne Museum, Carlton


This is the first time that Britain’s Imperial War Museums (IWM) has toured an exhibition about any subject around the world. It involved extensive planning and development, drawing in curators, historians, conservators, exhibition designers and project managers. All this work has had to be coordinated both within the IWM and across the 20,000km gulf between Britain and Australia.

The WW1 Centenary Exhibition is a superb platform from which to launch the original, founding purpose of the museum into the 21st century, explaining to a new generation what WW1 was all about and how it continues to affect our lives.

The first proposal for the exhibition was raised at IWM in the middle of 2013. We have worked steadily, locating objects and arranging them into a clear, focused narrative, designing the look and feel of the show, preparing and conserving all the artefacts for four years on the road and creating the new audio-visual content.

IWM enthusiastically embraced the idea of recording the wartime experience of everyone who lived in the Empire. The centenary of Anzac Day is as important to us as to Australia.

The exhibition looks to chart the overall history of WW1 as experienced by the people of Britain and the then-British Empire, and the profound effect this had on all their lives. It is concerned with the wider impact of the war.

A series of large-scale animated audio-visual films has been specially written and produced for the exhibition. Central to the display space are three areas dealing with the war, on land, in the air and at sea. Giant screens have been located in each one to evoke stories characteristic to each one. They will show a short, animated film based as closely as possible on the words of real people who took part.

These films are linked to further supporting animated episodes surrounding an area known as The Trench. Its tall sides and deep shadows are intended to evoke something of the feeling of being in the trenches. Above the parapet, four large screens reveal a landscape of barbed wire and devastated buildings.

The three main films and this trench environment have been carefully choreographed to turn over slowly in sequence. Night follows day; rain turns to sun. A tanks rolls by and an aeroplane zooms closely overhead.

Overall, more than 350 precious artefacts are on display.

Written by RACV
February 22, 2019