Clay and Combat – Exploring the embodied experience of war through ceramic practice

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter will discuss an example of how a museum collection may be used as a catalyst to engage participants, inviting them to reflect upon their own experiences of combat and consider how these experiences might be materialised through the production of new crafted artefacts.
Taking the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens’ (SMWG) collection of nineteenth century Sunderland lustreware pottery as a precedent, this project explored how ceramics could be used to commemorate the British Army’s recent involvement in Afghanistan. This research with soldiers and veterans (McHugh 2017a, 2017b, 2018) showed that combatants often make new material culture or customise existing objects during tours of duty. While some of these items may have a practical function, they may also serve to pass time or act as protective amulets. Post-combat, tattooing is often used as a cathartic way of remembering fallen comrades. In the domestic setting, such conflict-related objects and behaviours may play an important, yet largely undocumented, role in framing family cosmologies (Dendooven 2009, 66), or act as ‘key conduits’ in the transmission of the traumatic past across generations (Kidron 2012, 17).
These engagements, catalysed by the collection, have led to the production of a new body of ceramic artworks made by both the author and the participants. Some of these items have been displayed at the SMWG, establishing a connection between the historical collection and the contemporary responses. Ongoing research in Northern Ireland has also taken conflict-related collections as a starting point for a dialogue with veterans about craft and commemorative practices. This will be discussed from a comparative perspective, providing another example of how combatants negotiate the traumas of war and its aftermath through a range of embodied practices, including the production of crafted objects.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCraft and War: Makers, Objects and Armed Conflicts since 1850
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 20 Mar 2022


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