Stunning sculpture is centrepiece of exhibition commemorating blinded veterans

03 August 2017

A new free exhibition at the Arboretum commemorates those who lost their sight in the First World War. Developed in partnership with Blind Veterans UK, it showcases Johanna Domke-Guyot’s (Marshall) extraordinary sculpture, ‘Victory over Blindness’ and is open to the public till 3 December 2017.

Johanna Domke-Guyot (Marshall) has used the medium of contemporary life-like sculptures to express human relationships, and evoke an emotional response from the viewer based on their own personal interpretation. ‘Victory over Blindness’ is the centre piece of the exhibition, echoing the painting ‘Gassed’ by John Singer Sargent. The exhibition also includes mixed-media artefacts commemorating those who lost their sight during the First World War, as well as those who have lost their sight in subsequent conflicts.

The title of the exhibition, ‘Victory over Blindness’, was the favourite phrase of Blind Veterans’ founder, Sir Arthur Pearson, who on losing his sight in 1913, was determined to continue to live a fulfilling life. He set himself the goal of changing society’s perception of blind people. While serving in the First World War, thousands of men and women, lost their sight, giving rise to the importance of the charity in supporting their adjustments to a very different life.

Two of the real-life stories featured in the exhibition are about veterans from one of the most notorious battles of the First World War, the Battle of Passchendaele. Godfrey Robinson, C.B.E., M.C served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, losing sight in both eyes in August 1917, and Harold Fordyce, one of a substantial number of Australians who came to fight in the First World War; despite losing his sight he trained as a poultry farmer and setup a farming business with his brother when he returned to Australia.

Many of the men and women who have been blinded in service and received help from Blind Veterans UK have gone on to support and work for the charity. Simon Brown who joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1997 was blinded in Iraq in 2006 by a sniper bullet. After his initial rehabilitation with Blind Veterans UK, he went on to work for them, and is now employed as Communications and Engagement Officer. His story also forms part of the exhibition.

Kathryn Rogerson, Exhibitions Officer, National Memorial Arboretum, said: “We are delighted to be working with Joanna Domke-Guyot and Blind Veterans UK to host this new exhibition at the Arboretum, enhancing our cultural offering. This temporary exhibition uses art as a medium to explore the difficulties facing those who are blinded in war”.

Johanna Domke-Guyot (Marshall), the creator of ‘Victory over Blindness’ said: “Commemorating war veterans through contemporary sculptures encourages the audience to use their imagination while exploring the vulnerability of the young men portrayed, as demonstrated by their stripped back and simplistic appearance. It is an honour to have my work displayed at the National Memorial Arboretum, and working with the Arboretum to bring visitors new ways of experiencing and interpreting Remembrance”.

Major General (Retd) Nick Caplin CB, Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, said: “The ‘Victory over Blindness’ exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum, provides an engaging method of assisting visitors to learn about people who have been blinded during war. Highlighting the importance of the support and assistance that must be provided to help veterans adjust to life after they lose their sight.”