A Sideshow of a Sideshow

13 March 2019

Region: Headquarters

Last few days to see ‘A Sideshow of a Sideshow’ from Tom Hunter HonFRPS

by Del Barrett

We’ve all heard of Lawrence of Arabia, but before I visited A Sideshow of a Sideshow, my knowledge comprised Omar Sharif and the ability to hum the theme tune.  However, having spent a very pleasant hour talking to Society Honorary Fellow, Tom Hunter, at his ‘Sideshow’, I am seriously impressed at how much I learned through his small, but so cleverly crafted installation.

Lawrence Tomb, Dorset

It started as a childhood curiosity about T E Lawrence, whose tomb Tom visited as a boy.  This curiosity has developed into a major body of work, of which this exhibition is just a small part.  And, as is the case with all outstanding artists, it is Tom’s intense attention to detail that enables the viewer to quickly assimilate the intricate relationships surrounding cultural identity, masculinity, exploitation, irony and the disturbing way that history repeats itself.  Tom’s own images (some of which were made during his artist’s residency in Jordan) sit eloquently with various objects including hand-painted film posters, toy soldiers, bullets and film memorabilia that highlight the homonymy of shooting, as well as a first edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Lawrence’s war memoirs) left strategically open at the page explaining the reasoning behind his unconventional dress – at least, unconventional for a British soldier. 

The atmosphere and immersive experience are heightened by an old gramophone, from which emits the Lawrence of Arabia theme tune, and a television playing the film.  As soon as I saw the opening scene, I realised that my pre-show knowledge was not as good as I had thought – it was, of course, Peter O’Toole who played the lead.

Lawrence was clearly a complex man and Tom has cleverly used him as a metaphor for the complexity of power relations in the Middle East, with the title of the exhibition being a quote from Lawrence about how he saw the Arab Revolt in relation to WWI.

And although not in the sideshow space, the visitor can see more of Tom’s work, from the Syrian refugee camps, in the corridor displays on the ground floor.

Syrian Herders Jordan Camp

Syrian Refugee Hut

Runs until 15th March.  Free entry, open 11:00 - 16:00

PARCspace, W224, London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle, SE1 6SB.

A Sideshow of a Sideshow is part of Research Fortnight.

All images © Tom Hunter

Featured image: Lawrence on the Tracks

Tom's website