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18 Aug, 2009

Steve McQueen gets my stamp of approval

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Publishing postage stamps with the faces of British soldiers who died in Iraq is an inspiring idea that deserves to be realised

As concern grows about British casualties in Afghanistan, the campaign continues to get Steve McQueen’s memorial to Britain’s war dead in Iraq realised. Will the artist’s project to create stamps showing the photographs of British men and women who died in service ever be accepted by the Post Office? It would be a moving, sensitive, appropriate and well-judged way to commemorate these mostly young soldiers, medics and other personnel.

A national tour of Queen and Country, supported by the Art Fund, has just reached Wolverhampton, with the portable exhibition of prototype stamps opening at Wolverhampton Art Gallery last week. A dignified wooden cabinet stands almost like a cenotaph in the centre of a low-lit room. You slide out displays of stamps bearing portraits – mostly casual, intimate snapshots – of dead British military personnel. You look for a while at each face. You feel pangs of loss and the shock of waste when you see how many of them were still teenagers when they died. And these are not deaths in some war long ago but in this time, now.

Getting into a debate about the Iraq war in this context would be counterproductive. Whatever you believe about the rights or wrongs of this and all wars, a stamp issue commemorating these individuals would be a very special war memorial. It would be more human, and more direct than a bronze monument in a park. It would force anyone using the stamps to engage directly, just for a moment, with the face of a soldier who died in our names in Iraq.

The Art Fund is right to keep pushing for the stamps to be published; McQueen’s idea is not divisive or loaded. It is simple and compassionate. It deserves to become an official set of stamps.

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