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Senior Sydney-based artist, Ian Howard (b. 1947), has used war and military history as a subject for his work since he began practising as an artist (during the Vietnam War) in 1968. For more than three decades, Howard has researched military institutions, sites, and monuments—including the Berlin Wall, the Pentagon and recently, People’s Liberation Army bases in China. He has worked with the Australian, British and US defence forces, including the Pentagon, where he gained access to facilities and equipment to produce artwork such as the 1975 rubbings of the iconic Vietnam War fighter plane, the F-4 Phantom.
Howard is probably best known for his 1975 wax rubbing (held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales) of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima in 1945. Howard is currently Dean of the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney.
The Ian Potter Museum of Art presents a significant new installation by Howard that comprises a suite of photographs and two 1947 Fiat 500 Topolino (‘little mouse’ or colloquially ‘Mickey Mouse’) cars. Khyber passing explores ideas about an individual’s relationship to contemporary geo-political circumstances and calls into question our attitudes towards western ‘progress’. The Fiat Topolino was one of the first light cars of the inter-war years. The key to its popularity and success is that the Topolino was perceived to be ‘a big car in miniature’. While these are not pristine vintage cars, Howard describes them as ‘baby cute’ and ‘intriguingly similar as mass produced objects but different due to their histories’. In this installation he proposes the cars as anthropomorphic and, ironically, as symbolic of aspects of political power and change. The artist invites museum visitors to touch the cars, open the doors and sit in the seats.