The material of mourning: Paul Emmanuel’s Lost Men as counter-memorials

Authors

Keywords:

Paul Emmanuel, The Lost Men, materiality, anti-war, counter-memorials

Abstract

Paul Emmanuel’s works to be discussed are site-specific, counter-memorial statements called The Lost Men. Each installation consists of semi-transparent cloth banners carrying photographic images of parts of the artist’s body, imprinted with the names of men who represent participants from both sides of each conflict memorialised. These are often men who went undocumented in official records and include those who were lost or killed in major conflicts, from the Frontier Wars in the Eastern Cape: The Lost Men Grahamstown (2004), to the civil war in Mozambique: The Lost Men Mozambique (2007) and from World War 1: The Lost Men France (2014). Emmanuel’s banners are fragile; some have been lost and some have deteriorated in situ. In all their iterations, they engage with memory, impermanence, vulnerability, death and an alternative view of masculine identity that undermines the macho aggression associated with warfare. I discuss the role a lack of material substance plays in enhancing the message of loss and grief. I argue that the very impermanence of cloth is essential to countering what Pierre Nora (1989:8) terms the ‘lieux de memoire’ – lasting physical memorials that enshrine and perpetuate “memories” when the lived experience of those memories have long been lost. Emmanuel’s Lost Men are truly in the process of being “lost” through disintegration, and I argue that this physical deterioration, in conjunction with the imagery Emmanuel uses, is the key to their success as counter-memorials.

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Published

2021-02-01

Issue

Section

Themed section: Material narratives