War in short pants looks at the first world war through the eyes of children. from october 14th 2016 seven children from seven countries will be telling their story in the st peter’s abbey in ghent. each of them lived their own personal war, close to the front perhaps, on the other side of the world or fleeing the enemy.
In their own language the children recount how a world war invades their playground, living-room, classroom or village. with pen and pencil they describe in diaries, letters and drawings how the great war affects their loved ones and their dreams, and touches their hearts. it is as if the young people we hear on the audio-guide are experiencing their impressions of the day for the first time.
Visitors to the exhibition literally step into the time and space of the young protagonists, surrounded by original ego-documents and historical toys. each child’s microcosm is crystallized in enlarged toy frames which reflect the child’s environment and testimony. looking at their toy aeroplanes and soldiers, childhood turns to adulthood, playtime to the ‘real’ world.
The summer of 1914 saw the outbreak of a war that changed the world. Soldiers were not its only victims; whole communities were affected. Children as well as adults suddenly found themselves in the eye of the storm.
Those confounding and tragic experiences have been widely commemorated since 2014. Following on from there, Historische Huizen Gent looked at those events from a new viewpoint: that of children. How did children experience that dramatic period which turned the world upside down? How did the war impact on their little world?
War in short pants juxtaposes the child’s world with the world of grown-ups, childish fantasy with adult reality. Photographs and moving images show children’s belongings in a wider context and bring to life the world in which children grew up during the First World War. In this way, the exhibition sketches an extraordinary picture of what was for everyone an extraordinary time. And it does this in the stimulating, poetical and novel way that is the trademark of Historische Huizen Gent’s exhibition-makers.
Original exhibition design
The exhibition underlines in an original and very tangible way the stark contrast between the children’s world and the harsh reality. The world of the protagonists is recreated in large steel constructions representing parts of toys. Visitors step into them and become part of the child’s world, part of the child’s story. On the accompanying audio-guide they hear excerpts from the children’s diaries and letters, which bring that world to life and make it more poignant.
Step out of that environment and visitors find themselves face to face with the adult reality of the day. A theme is linked to each child and developed on the basis of his or her life story. Those themes range from ‘the absent father’, ‘the mobilization of the child’ and ‘life under occupation’ to ‘child soldiers’, ‘globalization’, etc.
War in short pants prides itself on numerous loans and visual material from Belgium and abroad, including L’Archive de La Province dominicaine de France, das Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Bank of Scotland Archives, le Musée de la Grande Guerre du pays de Meaux, la Collection Société française de photographie, Stiftung Ruhr Museum, In Flanders Fields and the Royal Museums of Art and History.
A number of private collectors at home and abroad also made their collections available. And, last but not least, we are indebted to the Toy Museum in Mechelen for their cooperation.
Cooperation with Cegesoma and the institute for public history Like Coloured Past, Family at War in 2010 and Unknown Images, Powerful Stories in 2012, War in short pants is a cooperation project between Historische Huizen Gent, Bruno De Wever of the Instituut voor Publieksgeschiedenis/UGent and the CegeSoma in the person of Rudi Van Doorslaer and Bruno Benvindo
Sint-Pietersabdij - War in short pants - 14.10.2016-02.04.2017