Poetry Despite/Music Despite


Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem) connects artists across time and place, from World War I to the “Global War on Terror,” from the UK to Iraq. These connections acknowledge the recurring traumas of war and, conversely, the human connections that happen despite the pain. 

The project emerged out of my personal reflections on Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (originally written for the 1962 consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral), the nine poems by World War I poet Wilfred Owen featured in the War Requiem, and maestro Karim Wasfi’s “spontaneous compositions,” solo cello performances held at sites of recent bombings in Iraq. These works, along with my own memories of being a US soldier in Iraq in 2003-2004, resonate with each other. They facilitate connections between our current state of endless war and its historical antecedents. Aptly, Wasfi has said of his cello performances: “I was connecting everything: death, spirits, bodies, life.” I was inspired to do something similar.

Building off these connections, Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem) is comprised of three core elements. The first re-imagines each of Owen’s War Requiem poems, placing this historic work into a contemporary context. These re-imagined works of poetry and hip-hop are accompanied by solo cello performances by maestro Wasfi and presented within the structure of the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead, the same structure Britten used for the War Requiem.

 The second element of the project includes nine large-scale woodblock prints that visualize the relationship between the horrors of World War I and the ongoing “Global War on Terror.” The prints respond to Owen’s nine poems in the War Requiem, while exploring current issues, including state-sanctioned extrajudicial killing, torture and detention, the refugee crisis, the rise of extremism, and the failure of states. 

The third element reflects on the music and poetry created by those most impacted. In a humble gesture towards reparation for the destruction and instability that has resulted from the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, I donated my artist fee to maestro Wasfi. I invite members of the public—especially those from countries that supported the invasion of Iraq—to join me in this gesture by supporting Iraqi musicians who play on, despite.

Make a contribution here.

—Aaron Hughes, 2019

Special Thanks 

Michael Rakowitz, Nicole Baltrushes Hughes, Karim Wasfi, GemArts, Carlos Sirah, Dunya Mikhail, Kevin Basl, Paul Mullowney, Kanani Miyamoto, Harry Schneider, Schuyler DeMarinis, Lauren Goding, Russell Wood, Paul Kjelland, Kevin Soens, Christina Theobald, Moriah Iverson, Katharine Welsh, Sarah Munro, Stephen Cleland, Sarah Farahat, Caroline Murphy, Emily Holmes, Tom Newell,  Adrianne Murray-Neil, Mullowney Printing, Watershed Center for Fine Art Publishing at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.