'Secret Art of Survival' exhibition opens at Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum

News article 25 Oct 2019
Art dealer and broadcaster Philip Mould OBE opens the exhibition

Secret Art of Survival, an exhibition displaying the artwork of British Far East prisoners of War (FEPOW), is now open to the public at the Victoria Gallery and Museum in Liverpool.

Opened at a private view this week by Philip Mould OBE, art dealer and broadcaster, the exhibition is a collaboration between LSTM and the University’s Victoria Gallery and Museum.

He said: “The art of revelation you are about to witness has absolutely everything…fantasy and escapism, and you can’t stop that.” He highlighted the unique circumstances, captivity and deprivation, in which the mainly amateur artists created their work. “This subject is so riveting…it demonstrates how art can raise itself and the human condition above the parapet of mere survival.”

Invitees were welcomed by University of Liverpool’s pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Impact Professor Anthony Hollander who highlighted the impact the art works of the exhibition had on future medical research.

It followed a unique performance from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir, which sang the work of two British women, both internees in the Palembang Civilian Internment camp in Sumatra. It was first performed on 27 December 1943.

LSTM’s Director, Professor David Lalloo, spoke about the history of LSTM’s relationship with FEPOW, which is now in its seventh decade, with many of the men coming to LSTM for treatment for many years after their captivity ended. He said: “It is the first time that so much previously unrecognised art being brought together in combination with a vast programme of public lectures, talks, study days, film nights and school outreach.” With the audience made up of the families of many of the men whose artwork was on display, he also praised LSTM’s professor Geoff Gill and Honorary Research Fellow Meg Parkes for the enormous amount of work that they have put into this FEPOW project on behalf of LSTM.

He thanked the audience for attending the opening and honouring “this very special and unique legacy.”

Along with peer reviewed papers the work has led to two books by Geoff and Meg, Captive Memories and Burma Railway Medicine. They have now paired up with Jenny Wood, retired Senior Art Curator, Imperial War Museums to publish a companion book to the exhibition Captive Artists: the unseen art of British Far East prisoners of war, which will be available from mid-November.

Meg Parkes said: “The exhibition and the upcoming book will provide an insight into the ingenuity and creativity of the men’s skills. I am delighted to have been a part of bringing this collection together and ensuring that the men’s story is not lost to future generations.”

The exhibition is a collaboration between LSTM, the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum and made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund, through money raised by National Lottery players, trust funds and foundations as well as support from individuals. 

The exhibition is open until 20th June 2020 at the Victoria Gallery & Museum in Ashton Street, Liverpool L69 2DR.

You can find out more about the FEPOW project, book publications and the exhibition here.