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Faces of Battle at Henry Beaufort

Completing a cross-curricular project spanning six subject areas, students spent a week examining attitudes and values towards facial disfigurement and identity.

Completing a cross-curricular project spanning six subject areas, Henry Beaufort School students spent a week (26th-29th Feb) examining attitudes and values towards facial disfigurement and identity.

Inspired by Faces of Battle, an exhibition which charts the stories of servicemen with facial disfigurements caused by physical trauma on the frontline, Art Teacher Helen Chapman organised a focus week to allow Year 9 students the opportunity and time to examine and discuss topics relating to this theme.

Faces of BattleFaces of Battle, on show at the National Army Museum in London, is an exhibit that studies the patients of Sir Harold Gillies, men who suffered severe facial disfigurements during the First World War. Sir Harold Gillies, a pioneer in the fledgling discipline of plastic surgery, helped push the parameters of contemporary surgery techniques to allow men who were commonly unrecognisable, to help re-assimilate back into civilian life.

Throughout the week, students spent classes in Art, English, Drama, Humanities, ICT and Maths using the theme of facial disfigurement as a starting point to discuss and examine their own attitudes towards identity. “My aim was to use one central theme to provide and reinforce common links between different aspects of the curriculum,” explained Helen. “When the students leave school, they’ll find that they will have to draw on and combine all of their knowledge from different areas and it’s important that this is introduced now.”

Students created self portraits and wrote poetry, explored the relationship between appearance and emotions, studied the mathematical relationship of the features of the face, and described their reactions to when their own faces were distorted using mirrors, make-up and manipulated with computer software. The understanding of ‘beauty’ was also debated, particuarly in regard to different social, cultural and religious perceptions.

During the week, Paddy Hartley, an artist who has dedicated years to researching the history of patients of Sir Harold Gillies and co-curator of Faces of Battle came to talk to the students and see the result of the students’ work. “I was pleased to see such a personal project transformed and shared at Henry Beaufort School. This is exactly what Faces of Battle intended to do, to inform and educate and hopefully make people more aware of our perception of people’s appearance. It amazed me to see it interpreted and explored in so many different directions.”

Enthused by the results of the project, some subject teachers have decided to extend the theme beyond the week. In English, students will create an original piece of writing which will contribute to coursework for their GCSE grade and, in Art, many textile portraits will be made with needle felting and sewn together to create a ‘service blanket’

Drama Lesson