LSTM announces upcoming Secret Art of Survival exhibition

14 Feb 2019

Friday sees the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Singapore in 1942, when around 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war. Forced into often inhumane conditions, prisoners began to record their suffering in artworks undertaken at great personal risk.

From October this year LSTM, working with the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum (VG&M(link is external)) will offer the public the opportunity to see for the first time many of these artworks. The exhibit includes works by famous artists, including Jack Chalker and Ronald Searle, as well as lesser-known artists who have never been exhibited before.

The project, which has received a National Lottery grant, is led by Professor Geoff Gill and Honorary Research Fellow Meg Parkes, who have been involved in working with Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW) for many years at LSTM from both a medical and social history perspective.

Meg Parkes said: “LSTM has been involved with FEPOW for seven decades, carrying out tropical disease investigations with the men themselves until the 1990s, then undertaking an extensive oral history project with many veterans and their families from 2007. During that oral history project, we became aware of many previously unseen and unrecognised artworks – created hurriedly, against their captors’ orders and kept hidden. It gives unique insights into the monumental struggle to survive and represented countless and repeated acts of courage. We are delighted to be able to share these artworks with the public for the first time, to ensure that their stories are available to the wider public and future generations as well as bringing further pieces to light.”

The work will be exhibited in the VG&M from 19 October 2019 and will run until mid-June 2020. Alongside the exhibition, LSTM will deliver a participation programme, engaging with a wide audience from school children to academics and veterans. The 18-month programme will bring to life the rich, and often forgotten heritage of FEPOWs and their links to Liverpool for the public, coinciding with the 75th Anniversary off the end of WWII and the anniversary of the repatriation of more than half the FEPOWs through the port of Liverpool.

Nicola Euston, Head of Museums & Galleries at the University of Liverpool said: “We are really excited to be able to display the work of these amazing men, especially those pieces which have never been previously shown. It allows us to give these men a voice and ensure that stories are not lost. The outreach programme is extensive, and we have already begun working with local primary school children to highlight the sacrifice and resilience of these men to the next generation.”

The money raised by National Lottery players of £60,500 adds to the £10,000 raised by LSTM through a Crowdfunder campaign during November 2018, with over 160 supporters contributing to the project through online donations.