Exquisite Corpse: Flowers and the First World War

By Ann Elias.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The flower has a long and intertwined history with political violence, racial conflict, and the poetics of war. It has a binary conceptual structure that makes it a mutable image, capable of signifying both war and peace, and of embracing the transcendent as well as the abject. However, the public role of flowers in war is to help nations commemorate and remember the heroic sacrifices of the dead. Flowers are appropriate for official rituals of remembrance because their beauty, when fresh, deflects the horrific reality of that sacrifice. But the flower is also irresistible to the artist who engages with war because it has the shape of a human body and half its body grows beneath the ground in the symbolic realm of the unconscious. The image of the wild poppy of Flanders is the most conspicuous in the Western language of flowers and war. It officially commemorates the ‘glorious dead’, but its sanguine fleshy body also evokes the corpse.

Keywords: Flowers, War, Peace

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.31-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 488.330KB).

Dr. Ann Elias

Senior Lecturer in Art Theory, Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney, sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Ann Elias is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney where she coordinates an Art Theory program, teaches undergraduates, and supervises postgraduates. Her research is primarily in the discipline of Art History, with specialisation in still life painting, and aesthetics and war. Her most recent work is concerned with flower painting, war and melancholy. An article published in the Journal of the Australian War Memorial, discusses the cultural significance of the flower in World War 1. She also writes and publishes on contemporary art with an emphasis on contemporary Australian and New Zealand art.

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