Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tanks, Art and Subversion


This week in Tanktober I’ve been thinking about tanks that have been used as subversive pieces of art. A tank is such a powerful militaristic symbol that painting it in some incongruous colour scheme instantly creates a great juxtaposition of images. Here are a couple of repainted Soviet tanks from Kiev that demonstrate my point.



One of the most famous an influential examples of this was the monument to WWII Soviet tank crews in Prague. The memorial displayed a IS-2 tank bearing the turret number 23. Apparently after the Prague Spring of 1968 Czechs saw meaning in this number. In 1945 the Soviets liberated the Czechs from the Nazis, then in 1968 (1945+23) the Soviets used tanks to suppress democracy in Czechoslovakia. The monument therefore acquired the double meaning of liberation and occupation.

In 1991, the Czech artist David Černý painted the tank pink, and added a large extended middle finger on the top of it. He was arrested, the tank was repainted green, but then rapidly painted pink again by members of the newly elected Czech parliament in protest against Černý's arrest. It was then repainted green and pink again several times until the monument was finally removed, and the much abused IS-2 relocated to a military museum. Where it is still pink.

Černý is also responsible for another installation of the rear portion of a T34-85 buried in the ground, also painted in pink. It is probably due to him that the idea of juxtaposing the colour pink with the menacing shape of a tank has been so often emulated since, as in the Mandela Way tank.

The Mandela Way T34-85 is a former Czech Army tank improbably situated on a street in Bermondsey, London, with its gun trained on the local Southwark Council Chambers. It was a former movie prop, and you can see it in action crashing through a wall in the (great) 1995 movie of Richard III.

The Mandela Way tank has been repainted a number of times. Here are some of my favourites.

The subversive image of a pink tank has been made good use of in the UK by Amnesty International. This Abbott self-propelled howitzer (although I suppose you can call it a tank) appeared in a Brighton gay pride march in 2005, a great bit of PR that practically invited newspaper headlines like 'Amnesty brings Out the Big Guns in Support of Gay Rights'. Nice to see something called Abbott standing up for human rights. Which is an observation that might resonate if you live in Australia.

I'm also a huge fan of guerrilla knitting, or yarn bombing if you prefer. Bringing together a tank and yarn bombing, as here in Denmark...well that's just brilliant.

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