Room 15

Protest pictures

In the 1990s and 2000s Hamilton continued to tackle controversial political subjects and to reflect on the changing ways in which news was conveyed through the media. War games responded to the trivialisation of the 1990–1 Gulf War by BBC’s Newsnight, which used a sandpit with model tanks to represent army manoeuvres in a presentation that avoided showing Iraqi casualties.

Just over ten years later, Tony Blair sent British troops into Iraq on the justification – which proved incorrect – that Iraq concealed weapons of mass destruction. In Shock and Awe Hamilton dressed Blair in wild west garb, stepping over a rough terrain that was actually an enlarged image of a swirl of oil paint. The title refers to the military strategy of overcoming an enemy through a rapid demonstration of overwhelming power.

The Blair portrait recalls Hamilton’s earlier treatments of Gaitskell and Thatcher; Unorthodox Rendition looks back to the car setting of Swingeing London and to The citizen’s use of his body to protest his situation. It shows Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli who revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme to the British press. Vanunu was abducted by the Israeli secret service and imprisoned for 18 years. Hamilton based his painting on a press photograph showing Vanunu on his way to trial in Jerusalem, when, denied the right to talk to the media, he wrote (on the palm of his hand pressed against the car window) that he had been ‘hijacked in Rome’. Hamilton also addressed the politics of this region in his Maps of Palestine, which he made to demonstrate and protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as he interpreted it.