Art of Warfare

Saturdays in summer as a rule (at least here in UK) are recognised for two things. One of them is flocking to beer gardens and starting drinking way too early, and the second them is not going to places where tourists go. Today I skipped the first one and instead I made a visit to V&A (Victoria & Albert museum) to catch up on some culture, meaning making my way into a swarm of tourists racing to see as much as possible in as little time as possible on their way to Harrods.

We’ve all been there. Speed art viewing (as well as everything else with speed in front of it)  is a waste because art never really gets to be seen the way it deserves to be seen – Londoners hardly do it because of the it’s not going anywhere attitude and tourists do it only because we are going somewhere else. So today instead of rubbing a hole with my ass in the wooden bench in a pub, I went to explore the rest of the world. History.

I was never a huge fan of history. Mainly because at school it was all about memorising dates of famous battles and names of royalties who all had the same name except for ascending roman numbers next to them. Now when the pressure of failing the class is off, I discovered a new found appreciation for history. Or to be precise – trying to spot and understand patterns in human history in hope of finding an answer to why are we so fucked up? riddle.

Since V&A is a beautiful but incredibly confusing and huge building, I  decided to place my focus (between butterfly emporium and Trade charity sale) on the middle east and south east Asia section on art and culture.

Although I’ve seen it at least once before, I feel like I never looked at it properly. My previous visits were the equivalent of listening to reply rather than listening to hear. Today I truly listened and what I heard was a minuscule yet significant insight into values of our civilisation.

samurai sword handle

If we could sum up the past 2000 years of our existence, without exaggeration, humans cared the most about two things – war and art. Yet what is so special about ancient warfare was the amount of craft invested in creating armours and weapons.

Hey, if you are going to fight at least carry a sophisticated sword!

It mesmerised me that despite of how seemingly primitive peoples needs were at that particular time in history, yet the approach to war was unusually sophisticated.

Even though practicality wasn’t the priority, it didn’t stand in the way of efficiency. Beautiful robes embodied with gold and gems, the netsuke (a form of toggle that was used to secure personal items like pouches and tobacco carriers) which were crafted to a perfection, made me wonder if our imagination evolved much further past 16th century.

Looking at the Japanese fight armour I am not sure what boggles me more – whether it was made to infuriate the enemy or to astonish it. Yet it is something that you can possibly look at for hours and still not believe that this magnificent piece of art was created by a our primitive ancestors. The description (and the picture) below at very least should discourage Galliano from returning to fashion world.

Samurai Armour

Samurai armour evolved as styles of warfare changed. ‘Great armour’ was first made in the eleventh and twelfth centuries for mounted archers. It was brightly coloured with gold or silver gilt, and combined the skill of the armourer with that of weavers, leather workers and lacquerers. Many parts were made of iron or leather plates laced together with silk chord and lacquered. Flexible panels covered the torso, arms and thighs. (V&A )

Obviously warfare was the prime focus of state authorities for centuries. Extraordinary amounts of money and sophistication were invested to gain and maintain power over territories and population. It has been then, it’s still here now. Although our weapon of choice has evolved, our instincts haven’t. Only today we don’t cary mother-of-pearl decorated swords, we cary kalashnikovs and atomic bombs. Despite of all this beauty that I had pleasure to observe this afternoon in the museum, I was left saddened by the fact that we still don’t put as much money, talent and imagination into peace as we put into war.




Art of Warfare

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