Share story

LONDON (AP) — A new London exhibition about art since 9/11 begins with images — both familiar and shocking — of the devastated Twin Towers in New York.

The Imperial War Museum’s “Age of Terror ” show goes on to display works from the United States, Britain, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and beyond, all dealing with Sept. 11, 2001 and its consequences. It’s evidence, if any were needed, that the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. changed the world.

Rebecca Newell, the museum’s head of art, said Wednesday that 9/11 was “a watershed in our society, our political and cultural identity. And I think you could probably say that it’s a watershed for artists.”

Curator Sanna Moore said that “artists have always commented on world-changing events,” but research by the museum found that the number of artists reacting to conflicts has increased since the 2001 attacks.

“That was really the nucleus for where this show and this project started,” she said at a preview of the exhibition. “As a consequence of the internet, artists are really rapidly informed now, as we all are. I think that feeds in to the subjects they cover.”

Sept. 11 coincided with the birth of the internet age, and technology helped make the airliner attacks, which killed some 3,000 people, instantly a worldwide catastrophe.

The exhibition, which opens to the public on Thursday, begins with a reminder of how global it was: a room lined with newspaper front pages from Sept. 12, 2001, bearing images of destruction and headlines of war in many languages.

The museum has gathered work by more than 40 artists for the biggest art show in its 100-year history. Some of the pieces pack a visceral punch: “Nein! Eleven?” by British brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman consists of twin mounds of tiny plastic bodies. Others are allusive. Chilean artist Ivan Navarro’s “The Twin Towers” appears to be two inverted skyscrapers plunging through the floor into infinity; in fact it’s an optical illusion created with mirrors and fluorescent lights.

Other works reflect on the growth of state control and surveillance during the “war on terror” launched by the U.S. after 9/11. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recreates a surveillance camera in gleaming marble on a plinth, while Indian artist Jitish Kallat has sculpted a playful line of miniature people being searched, as if in an airport security queue.

Some artists work with images that have become uneasily iconic: Britain’s Rachel Howard paints a hooded inmate at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, where American troops were accused of torturing detainees. Another Briton, John Keane, depicts an orange jumpsuit like those worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees — and by victims of Islamic State group beheadings.

Another section of the show is devoted to weapons — especially the rise of drones, used to kill for the first time by the U.S. in Afghanistan weeks after 9/11 and now an integral, ethically contested part of warfare. Visitors entering the museum step over James Bridle’s “Drone Shadow,” an outline of a drone drawn on the floor. On one wall, Jim Ricks’ “Carpet Bombing” weaves an image of a Predator drone into an Afghan rug.

A final group of works, under the label Home, includes pieces by artists from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria about their conflict-scarred homelands, as well as works about American and British soldiers returning from war.

The Imperial War Museum is not known primarily for its art, although it has a collection of 20,000 works.

Newell said she hopes the show will draw a “younger, politically engaged” audience to a museum that millions of Britons first visited on school trips to see World War I trenches and Spitfires from World War II.

“What people often have in their minds is that it is about the First and Second World Wars,” she said. “(But) the Imperial War Museum in its conception was about recording contemporary conflict.”

“Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11” runs to May 28, 2018.

Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at