Toys and Great War at the Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux

The Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux has proposed once again an interesting exhibition which just ended on the 5th of January. We are sure that such theme (toys and games) is going to come back in the next years of the Centenary. War & Game(s) – this is the title of the exhibition – was originally presented in Bruxelles (Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire militaire) in 2011 and is now offered to the public with an enriched version. It collects toys and small playthings of the First World War and places them beside photos of the contemporary artist Virginie Cornet, aiming so to disclose the connection between two worlds which appear at first sight unrelated to each other: toys and war. The visitor discovers in this way how even the childhood was mobilized (we shouldn’t forget that the WWI was really a “global conflict”, involving everybody), on the one hand, and how the border between reality and fiction was manipulated even in the quiet and thoughtless space of children plays.

Arranged in four sections – “the artist’s work”, “playing at war”, “mobilizing the childhood” and “my father, this hero” – the exhibition describes how the child’s and adult’s worlds overlap and create a symbolic space of interconnection. A wide range of puppets – from the more expensive to the cheapest ones – shows how little boys and girls played during the Great War dressing their toys as soldier or as nurse, recreating so the roles of their parents and identifying themselves with the adult’s duties. No surprise, in this connection the educational and recreational importance of playing was often intermingled with propaganda messages and indoctrination purposes (let’s consider for example the attempt to introduce the learning of the alphabet using key-words coming from the war semantic field or to change doll-dresses into uniforms, or even to shape the features of the puppets according to the political and historical protagonists of the time). Beside this social and cultural aspects,  War & Game(s) does not neglect the more intimate significance of playing and considers also the relationship between fathers, fighting in the trenches, and their children. These latter may have elaborated the dramatic situation using their toys, giving significance to it by moving little tin soldiers on the playground and figuring out why their fathers were far away. On the other hand, a collection of toys put together by the soldiers during the pauses in the trenches or in the backlines using waste matter of the war (scrap metal, pieces of exploded grenade, etc.) and sent then back home, testifies how they tried to cooperate in educating their children and to mitigate their absence.

Many other aspects of this interesting topic deserve for sure to be investigated and analyzed in more detail, but the exhibition War & Game(s) offers to the visitors a captivating introduction to the same. You can read more here.