In a career spanning four decades Bobby Baker has danced with meringue ladies, made a life-sized version of her family out of cake and driven around the streets of London strapped to the back of a truck telling people to ‘Pull Yourselves Together’. Her groundbreaking exhibition Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me 1997- 2008 is still touring following its premier at the Wellcome Collection in 2009, and the accompanying book won MIND’s book of the year in 2011.
Now Bobby Baker is turning her attention to her own family history and the domestic experiences of women during the First World War, to create a remarkable immersive multi-media art installation in an ordinary terraced house in Newcastle.
Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, Great & Tiny War is inspired by real stories, passed down through Baker’s family. It shines a light on the role of women during wartime and the impact of conflicts, historical and contemporary, on the mental health of whole families through the generations.
Visitors don headphones and listen to the artist as she guides them through the house. Moving from room to room they encounter different experiences that juxtapose the everyday with the extraordinary and a series of unexpected interventions. Some are being kept under wraps for now, but visitors will see a spectral heroine and a table set for dinner, the story of a family through the generations, a gallery of hand painted treasures and 4,701 reinvented dinners.
The installation also includes a display of baked weapons and armour, made by women living in the Newcastle area at artist-led workshops, who have experience within their families of contemporary wars, either as members of the armed forces, asylum seekers or refugees.
The domestic work that women do during wartime is undervalued and rarely represented by historic reflections on the war - yet it is what sustains life. Baker’s work celebrates this overlooked aspect of everyday life, and the strength of women and families in caring for those traumatised by war. Her own family’s history includes a grandfather, whose experience of designing arms that killed his contemporaries led to a post-war breakdown, that in turn had an impact on those around him. Baker said, ‘Everybody's family has got a war in it, so I hope that Great & Tiny War will resonate with everyone who visits’.
Bobby Baker’s Great & Tiny War is a thoughtful, witty and joyous tribute to the unacknowledged private struggles and personal strength of women in times of conflict. It is commissioned by 14-18 NOW and co-produced by Wunderbar and Daily Life Ltd.