Visit IWM’s website at iwm.org.uk to find out the latest exhibitions across its five branches: IWM London, Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast, IWM North and Duxford.
Currently on at IWM London
General admission free; temporary exhibitions in italics; special exhibition requires tickets
Level 0 – WW1 & assortment of large vehicles and weapons
– First World War Galleries
Level 1 – WW2 and a modern British military personnel exhibit
– “Turning Points”: Second World War Galleries
– “Family in Wartime” (life during the London Blitz)
– “Afghanistan: Reflections on Helmand” – NOW CLOSED
Level 2 – Conflict and Cold War tensions after WW2
– “Peace & Security: 1945 – 2015”
– “Secret War”
Level 3 – Special Exhibition and Art exhibitions, including paintings and photography
– “Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11” – until 28 May 2018
Review: ‘A Chilling Show for Dark Times’ The Guardian.
– The Holocaust Exhibition
Level 5 – Display of British military decorations and stories behind them
– Lord Ashcroft Gallery
I can’t find…?
Things that you will not find at IWM London
History prior to WW1 – the Museum’s founding remit, in 1917, was to commemorate and record the effects of WW1 and has grown to cover conflict relating to Britain and the Commonwealth since.
There are a few exceptions. The Lord Ashcroft Gallery of Victoria & George Crosses tells some stories of men who fought for the British in conflicts before 1914 and were awarded a medal as a result. IWM’s archives holds some material that precedes 1914, particularly, the photography archive which goes back to the Crimean War.
The old museum – IWM London underwent a major redevelopment during 2013/14 and was re-launched at a cost of over £40 million in the summer of 2014, in time for the national centenary commemorations of the outbreak of WW1. This was Stage 1 of a larger Transformation Project.
The WW1 and WW2 exhibits were revamped, a floor removed, new staircases built and a mezzanine events space created on Level 4. A number of large objects from the collection – vehicles and aircraft were removed to IWM Duxford. The transformation also meant the end for a number of long-running exhibits, as well as some more recent ones, such as “Crimes Against Humanity” – an exhibit that examined genocide and ethnic violence through video.
Stage 2 of the Transformation Project will be underway shortly with new WW2 galleries and a Holocaust Learning Centre planned. Under threat from these expansions are the Research Room, Archives and Explore History educational drop-in centre. This makes the development controversial, threatening to hollow out the educational and research services that the Museum provides.
The Trench Experience, Blitz Experience and 1940s House – These experiential mock-ups that sought to recreate the sensory experience of being in a trench, air raid shelter and 1940s house have been removed from the Museum since the transformation in 2014.
The Museum does have a shorter section of a life-size model trench in the new First World War Galleries on Level 0. Life during the Blitz in London, during WW2, is presented in the exhibition “Family in Wartime”.
T.E. Lawrence’s motorbike – The SS100 Brough Superior motorbike that T.E Lawrence was riding when he had the accident that would kill him has been returned to its owner. It was on loan at the Museum.
The Churchill War Rooms – The War Rooms are part of the Imperial War Museums but located in Westminster.
The British Empire and suppression of independence movements – there is a display on “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland but, on the whole, the Museum overlooks British Imperialism and its related role in global conflict – from the “Mau Mau” uprising in Kenya to Britain’s role in the coup that overthrew the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mossadegh and replaced him with a brutal dictator. The state crimes of empire are excluded.
There is one exhibition at IWM London, however, that does consider imperial conflict, as one reviewer pointed out in a critical review of the museum:
“A notable exception to this tendency appears in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, an eponymously named permanent exhibit on the museum’s top floor that was funded by a £5m donation from the Tory peer. The gallery houses Ashcroft’s personal collection of Victoria Crosses, Britain’s highest military honour that is awarded for “gallantry in the face of the enemy”. As I made my way around the gallery, I noticed almost immediately that many of the medals were from the same two year period: 1857-58. It was in these two years that Britain crushed what was perhaps the greatest anti-colonial military rebellion in history, one conducted against the rule of the East India Company in India.”
Voices of Iraqi & Afghanistan civilians – The Museum gives little to no space to the voices of the civilian victims of Britain’s recent military missions and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recent art and photography exhibitions on Level 3 have started to address the drone assassination programme and the state response to terrorism. In 2012, the museum displayed a collection of South African artist, Albert Adams’ depictions of torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
On display on Level 0 is the wreckage of a car blown up by a bomb in Baghdad in 2007, killing 38 people in a book market. This was an exhibit curated by artist Jeremy Deller, who took the wreckage on tour in the USA to stimulate debate and subsequently donated it to the Imperial War Museum.
Voices of victims of British and US drone assassination programmes around the world – Britain has conducted its own drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, whilst assisting the US’s much wider global assassination programme which has struck in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, outside of conventional war zones.
IWM London will, however, present a free art exhibition by Pakistani artist, Mahwish Chishty, depicting drones using traditional Afghan/Pakistani art. It opens on 19th October 2016.
In 2014, IWM presented a video installation by artist, Omer Fast, which considered, largely, the psychological effect of being a drone operator.