Student Resource

Memory Exam Help

Explore memories of the past, memories of people and fading memories to see how artists recall and reminisce in art

Susan Hiller, ‘Monument’ 1980–1
Susan Hiller
Monument 1980–1
Tate
© Susan Hiller
Lubaina Himid, ‘Between the Two my Heart is Balanced’ 1991
Lubaina Himid
Between the Two my Heart is Balanced 1991
Tate
© Lubaina Himid
Christian Boltanski, ‘The Reserve of Dead Swiss’ 1990
Christian Boltanski
The Reserve of Dead Swiss 1990
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
Tracey Emin, ‘May Dodge, My Nan’ 1963–93
Tracey Emin
May Dodge, My Nan 1963–93
Tate
© Tracey Emin
Paul Nash, ‘Pillar and Moon’ 1932–42
Paul Nash
Pillar and Moon 1932–42
Tate
Paula Rego, ‘Nanny, Small Bears and Bogeyman’ 1982
Paula Rego
Nanny, Small Bears and Bogeyman 1982
Tate
© Paula Rego
Lorna Simpson, ‘Photo Booth’ 2008
Lorna Simpson
Photo Booth 2008
Tate
© Lorna Simpson, courtesy Salon 94, New York
Cy Twombly, ‘Souvenir de L’Ile des Saintes’ 1979
Cy Twombly
Souvenir de L’Ile des Saintes 1979
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Courtesy & © Cy Twombly Foundation
Edward Wadsworth, ‘Regalia’ 1928
Edward Wadsworth
Regalia 1928
Tate
© The estate of Edward Wadsworth
Angus Fairhurst, ‘Over Mont Blanc, All Evidence of Man Removed’ 1993
Angus Fairhurst
Over Mont Blanc, All Evidence of Man Removed 1993
Tate
© The estate of Angus Fairhurst
Tom Phillips, ‘Benches’ 1970–1
Tom Phillips
Benches 1970–1
Tate
© Tom Phillips

Memories relate to the past. Some artists make work about their childhood, others make work about a particular person, place or event they remember.

Memories of the past

Lubaina Himid, ‘Between the Two my Heart is Balanced’ 1991
Lubaina Himid
Between the Two my Heart is Balanced 1991
Tate
© Lubaina Himid

Artists like Lubaina Himid and Christian Boltanski address a more general history of the past that is part of our collective memory. Himid often challenges the lack of representation of people of colour in traditional history. Between the Two my Heart is Balanced is from a group of works which propose black women's voices as alternatives alongside those of white men. She has alluded to the meaning of this work:

Two women sit in a small boat tearing up navigation charts: how many died crossing the water ... can the past be replayed ... can the future be different?

Don McCullin, ‘The Battle for the City of Hue, South Vietnam, US Marine Inside Civilian House’ 1968, printed 2013
Don McCullin
The Battle for the City of Hue, South Vietnam, US Marine Inside Civilian House 1968, printed 2013
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Don McCullin
Don McCullin, ‘British Soldiers in The Bogside, Londonderry, Arresting a Catholic Youth’ 1971, printed 2013
Don McCullin
British Soldiers in The Bogside, Londonderry, Arresting a Catholic Youth 1971, printed 2013
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Don McCullin
Don McCullin, ‘Starving Twenty Four Year Old Mother with Child, Biafra’ 1968, printed 2013
Don McCullin
Starving Twenty Four Year Old Mother with Child, Biafra 1968, printed 2013
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Don McCullin

Photographer Don McCullin made work in conflict zones and war in Vietnam, Berlin and Northern Ireland. His works document the horror of conflict. They also symbolise how devastating the impact of war is on society.

Making memory physical

Emma Kay, ‘Worldview’ 1999
Emma Kay
Worldview 1999
Tate
© Emma Kay

How memory functions and selective memory is the theme Emma Kay explores in her work. In Worldview she tries to write down the history of the world using only her own memories as a reference.

Ibrahim El-Salahi, ‘Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I’ 1961–5
Ibrahim El-Salahi
Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I 1961–5
Tate
© Ibrahim Salahi
Agnes Martin, ‘Happy Holiday’ 1999
Agnes Martin
Happy Holiday 1999
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© estate of Agnes Martin

Both Ibrahim el Salahi and Agnes Martin have created works look at memory in relation to spirituality. El-Salahi frequently draws on childhood memories and visions experienced during meditation for inspiration. In Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I El-Salahi captures the fleeting and dramatic moments when memory and dreams past and present collide. Happy Holiday is one of a series of Martin paintings where she uses titles to evoke happy memories from the past. Her quiet and serene paintings were products of personal and spiritual struggle in her inner emotional world.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Sketch from Memory’ exhibited 1830
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Sketch from Memory exhibited 1830
Tate

This Turner work is a literal representation of a past event, created from memory. It was made after the artist attended the funeral of the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence. Turner has remembered many small details, and the work evokes the chill air of a cold January day.

Memories of people

Tracey Emin, ‘May Dodge, My Nan’ 1963–93
Tracey Emin
May Dodge, My Nan 1963–93
Tate
© Tracey Emin

Many artists have used artworks as memorials to people that were close to them. Tracey Emin's work May Dodge, My Nan features a collection of objects which relate to her grandmother. A page of handwritten text from the artist addressing her grandmother pays tribute to their loving relationship.

Gavin Turk, ‘Cavey’ 1991–7
Gavin Turk
Cavey 1991–7
Tate
© Gavin Turk

In Cavey, artist Gavin Turk creates a memorial to himself. This blue plaque was made for the artist by one of the companies who make the plaques with which English Heritage marks the homes of distinguished people. He uses the idea his death and the commemorating his life as the subject of the work.

Susan Hiller’s Monument explores memory, death, history, heroism, representation and time. The work incorporates forty-one photographs of memorial plaques the artist came across in a London park. There is one photograph for each year of the artist’s life (at the time the work was made). Each plaque commemorates an ordinary man, woman or child who died while performing an act of heroism.

Susan Hiller, ‘Monument’ 1980–1
Susan Hiller
Monument 1980–1
Tate
© Susan Hiller

Fading memory

Rachel Whiteread, ‘Untitled (Rooms)’ 2001
Rachel Whiteread
Untitled (Rooms) 2001
Tate
© Rachel Whiteread

Artists’ treatment of their memories often have a dream-like quality. This suggests the idea of the memory as faded or not being as real as the present. Rachel Whiteread’s casts of now demolished buildings have a melancholy quality. They appear as ghosts of their original structures.

Angus Fairhurst, ‘Swissair, All Evidence of Man Removed’ 1993
Angus Fairhurst
Swissair, All Evidence of Man Removed 1993
Tate
© The estate of Angus Fairhurst
Angus Fairhurst, ‘Stenness, All Evidence of Man Removed’ 1993
Angus Fairhurst
Stenness, All Evidence of Man Removed 1993
Tate
© The estate of Angus Fairhurst

Angus Fairhurst has created works that try to physically erase the memory of man. He has manually blanked out man-made objects in geographically important places. This makes us think about memories of the earth before man, and the effect humankind is having on our world.

Peter Blake, ‘The Toy Shop’ 1962
Peter Blake
The Toy Shop 1962
Tate
© Peter Blake 2019. All rights reserved, DACS

Peter Blake is a pop artist interested in a wide range of cultural forms. These include everything from high art to pop music and children’s toys. This work suggests a sense of nostalgia for the objects related to his childhood. He creates memories of his younger years with his collection old toys and related images.

More for students and teachers

Teaching Resource

Research skills and exam support

Designed to inspire ideas for research in the gallery, classroom and everyday life

Find out what's on for students and teachers

Find out about workshops, courses and other opportunities for students and teachers at Tate Britain, Modern, Liverpool and St Ives