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Contemporary War Artists: Peter Howson: Bosnia

'Drunken Guard with Frightened Boy' by Peter Howson
Peter Howson was commissioned in Spring 1993 by the Imperial War Museum and Times Newspapers to go to Bosnia. He made two visits to the country in June and December, travelling with the British forces participating in the United Nations Protection Force. In June he went to Travnik, Gornji Vakuf, Prozor and Vitez, but was forced to return early because of illness.

During this visit he was under the scrutiny of a BBC television crew. The BBC2 Forty Minutes documentary 'War Artist' was screened on 23 November 1993.

When he returned to Bosnia in December 1993 he was accompanied by his friend Ian MacColl who made a video diary of their experiences. In addition to the places he had seen in June, he went to Zenica and observed the work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Three oils and three drawings were selected for the Imperial War Museum's collection from Howson's Bosnia works. Thirty-five works, both oils and pastel drawings, were exhibited at the Imperial War Museum (15 September - 13 November) 1994 and additional works were shown at Flowers East.

Howson's exhibition provoked new debate in the press about the validity of painting 'imaginary' events as opposed to 'factual records'. The controversy centred on Croatian and Muslim, a painting of a rape scene. The work was a response to numerous accounts from rape victims which Howson had encountered in Bosnia. Contrary to popular belief, the painting was not censored but was included in the exhibition Bosnia at the Imperial War Museum in September 1994 and reproduced in the catalogue. However, a notice outside the gallery warned visitors that the exhibition contained material which might not be suitable for children.

The Museum elected to keep a different painting (Cleansed) as its main choice for the collections. Critics challenged the Artistic Records Committee's decision, suggesting that Croatian and Muslim was rejected because the image was so uncompromising and might be difficult to display out of context.

Further Reading Peter Howson: Bosnia, Imperial War Museum exhibition catalogue, 1994.
Press Cuttings Archive, Department of Art, IWM
Robert Heller: Peter Howson, Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh 1993.
Articles in The Times Magazine, 1 May 1993, 10 July 1993, 20 November 1993 and 3 September 1994.
Other Collections Flowers East Gallery (199/205 Richmond Road, London E8 3NJ) deals with Peter Howson's work.
Aberdeen City Art Gallery.
The Tate Gallery.
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
Photographic Reference All the works were photographed in black and white and on 35 mm colour slide. The photographic record, including those works now in the Museum's collection, can be consulted in the Print Room. Black and white reference photographs of IWM works may be ordered (allow 4 weeks).