On 17 October 2019, the internationally-acclaimed war artist Arabella Dorman joined our Chief Executive, Edmund Newell, for a Cumberland Conversation about her life and work.

Arabella has worked as an officially-accredited war artist for over a decade, documenting the effects of war and conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently portraying the human impact of conflict on civilians and refugees in Syria, Palestine, Gaza, Lebanon and across Europe.

As a Cumberland Lodge Scholar, I get the opportunity to meet a wide range of people who work to promote more peaceful and inclusive societies. My doctoral research explores the politics of war memory, focusing on how it is depicted and commemorated through art, so I was particularly looking forward to this event, and to meeting Arabella.

The human story

Reflecting on her role of the war artist, Arabella spoke about how the still image can powerfully convey the human story. Although her paintings depict global conflicts, her training as a portrait artist imbues her work with an intimate quality, capturing moments of human vulnerability and strength in extraordinary circumstances.

Rethinking refugees

At the heart of Arabella’s work is an attempt to redefine our understandings of ‘the other’. I was deeply struck by a story she recounted during this Conversation, about a painting of a group of young girls who were dancing in Afghanistan and who asked her to ‘tell them, when you go home, that we are girls who love to dance, that this is not just a land of men with beards and guns.’  

Arabella’s work is enriched by her ability to tell individual stories and to represent the human face of conflict.

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