War and peace

Simon Stephens, 08.04.2015
Exploring the Quaker experience of the first world war
Attending a recent meeting of a panel of museum and gallery professionals put together to oversee the development of this year’s Museums Association annual conference in Birmingham (5-6 November) gave me the chance to see one of the many exhibitions created to coincide with the anniversary of world war one.

But this one at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was a bit different from many that I’ve visited as it was about a faith group, the Quakers, who are committed to peace and peacemaking.
Faith & Action: Quakers & the First World War (until 7 June) examines the impact of the war on Quaker artists, businesses, families and communities in Birmingham, central England and beyond. It brings to life the dilemmas faced by young Quaker men in deciding whether to fight, face imprisonment or serve in other ways.

The exhibition opens by asking some thought-provoking questions that are still relevant today: what is a hero? It is cowardly to refuse to fight? If you believe your government is wrong, what do you do? Would you go to prison for something that you believe in?

Faith & Action, a free exhibition in the museum’s community gallery, is not large but shows what can be achieved with limited resources. Birmingham Museums Trust developed the displays in partnership with Quaker groups, who have historically had a strong presence in the West Midlands.

The West Midlands has a particularly strong interest in the subject of war and conflict, with Wolverhampton’s collection of art related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the museum service in Coventry, which has worked with other cities that were badly hit by world war two bombing, most notably Dresden in Germany.

Peace, forgiveness and reconciliation are important issues to look at, particularly in a world where armed conflict continues to affect the lives of so many people.


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Chris Wood
MA Member
15.04.2015, 20:54
I doubt I shall be able to get to Birmingham in time, but this sounds like an excellent exhibition. If people are interested in the Quaker and CO experience of WW1, they may find useful a paper on the subject that was given at an event on WW1 and Faith held by Norwich InterFaith Link back in November, which can be found at http://www.norwichinterfaith.co.uk/ .