The Secret Art of Survival

The result of over six years’ research to identify and locate previously unseen artworks created secretly and kept hidden by British servicemen during WWII Far East captivity. To date over 40 artists have been identified; the exhibition, in partnership with the Victoria Gallery & Museum, will bring together their work for the first time.

Where: Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool
Opening: Saturday 19 October 2019

About the Project 

The FEPOW study is the longest-running project in LSTM's history.  From late 1945 until the late 1990s the emphasis was on the healthcare, diagnosing and treating tropical infections and the effects of prolonged gross malnutrition. Since 1999, the focus has shifted to recording this unique medical history.  

Whilst conducting a major FEPOW oral history study from 2007 to 2009, researchers became aware of a growing number of previously unseen and unknown artworks, created secretly and hidden during captivity by numerous amateur artists; much of it remained hidden long after liberation, until now. Treasured by the veterans and now their families, this "documentary art" illustrates many aspects of captivity from everyday life, disease, medical ingenuity, the beauty of their surroundings to faith, humour and survival.

The Artwork

Art became the lens through which the artists illuminated the nightmare of disease and death in his midst. There was no other way of recording the neglect - no reporters or Red Cross delegations - just artists who recorded precisely what they wanted the viewer to see. And done at great risk. 

This art created hurriedly against captors' orders, had to be kept hidden. Over 70 years on, it gives unique insights into the monumental struggle to survive, both physically and mentally, and represents countless and repeated acts of courage.  Artistic styles include depictions of the ravages of tropical infections, portraiture, landscape, ingenuity, cartoons and caricatures, theatrical posters, stage sets, and wildlife studies.