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CHILDREN IN CONFLICT

An exhibition of paintings by war artist John Keane, commissioned by Christian Aid to highlight plight of young people and orphans in Anglola, where civil war raged for 27 Years. Children in Conflict, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 2007/8;  Flowers Central, 21 Cork Street, London W1, 2008;  Drumcroon Art Gallery, Wigan, 2008;  Aberdeen Art Gallery, 2008;  Aberystwyth Art Centre, 2009;  Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, 2009. 

“As a father of two, the plight of children in Angola invited poignant comparison,” said John. “I met children who had endured horrific hardships, who had seen their parents murdered in front of them, had spent many years in Zambia as refugees; damaged children who have no choice but to hope the future will be better than their past.”

“In the work I have produced I have attempted to evoke the huge tasks of reconstruction and reconciliation in the face of enormous odds, but at the same time allude to the indomitable optimism of the human spirit I encountered in the new generation of post-war Angolans which, in difficult moments, I felt was almost the only resource available to them.”

John travelled to Angola to visit post-conflict projects funded by Christian Aid, and to get to grips with the issues faced by children there. Under-15s make up nearly half the 15 million population, and the next big battle inhabitants face is containing the spread of HIV, the artist learnt. Life expectancy is just 41 years, and one in four children die before their fifth birthday – the third highest child mortality rate in the world.

It’s no wonder there is a mournful air to many of the works John has produced, which are mainly large-scale figurative paintings, with elements of collage and pattern evoking Angolan culture and personal stories.

His works are based on visits to three projects: SOS Habitat and ACJ (the Association of Christian Youth) in the capital, Luanda and IECA, the Angolan Congregational Church, in the remote southerly town of Mavinga.

SOS Habitat protects the housing rights of the poor in overcrowded Luanda, where the government and private businesses wish to demolish slums. ACJ runs health, water and sanitation training projects. IECA works with war returnees, helping them to re-establish themselves and learn skills in the isolated provinces of Kuando and Kubango.