XXY Reviews: ‘No Guts, No Glory’ by Ben Turnbull at the Saatchi Gallery

XXY Reviews: ‘No Guts, No Glory’ by Ben Turnbull at the Saatchi Gallery

The propaganda surrounding Trump’s administration has been nothing short of crazy. Is he tied up with Russia? Is twitter a viable place for politics to play out? The inability to differentiate between what is true and what isn’t has redefined what propaganda actually is. It not longer exists as a government lie that is drip fed to the public through films and posters. It exists on the internet, in media outlets, and leads to a questioning of everything that we’re told, because everyone might be lying. It’s effective in that now we’re all so caught up with working out what the hell is going on, people seep into despair rather than into action.

One artist tackling the concept of propaganda, one recycled comic at a time, is London-based Ben Turnbull. His solo exhibition, currently showing at the Saatchi Gallery, tackles the experience of members of the US armed forces from departure to homecoming. Consisting of several mixed media works, the pieces visually encapsulate the intricate emotional journey that everyone involved in war must experience, through the meticulous placement of carefully curated mediums. It’s approached with a light but respectful heart, as the memorial pop (is that an oxymoron?) remembers the men and women of war, using iconography from childhood such as toys and comics, and relics of their army service, such as flags and uniforms.

No Guts Ben Turnball

Propaganda often conjures up the image of Uncle Sam pointing, exclaiming ‘We Need You’. This poignant poster is reconstructed in Turnbull’s work, in collage using American comic books. Using these techniques, Turnbull is able to reflect the ways in which we must approach American politics in a modern world – a multifaceted view with a myriad of different influences.

Describing the inspiration behind his original series of montage works, Turnbull states that they stand at the line where “propaganda meets patriotism”. “Crafted and cut from vintage U.S. materials, the work reminds us of the reasons why we fight and the beliefs that influence us to do so. Inspired by the recruitment posters of James Montgomery Flagg and echoing true stories from Arlington, Virginia, this project acts as a memorial to the lives given for the ultimate sacrifice.”


Turnbull reminds us that whilst propaganda is often seen as trickery or blatant lies that interpellate us into particular ways of thinking, it is sometimes those that follow through with the ideologies that pay the ultimate price. For whatever reason these G.I.’s went to war, they deserve memorialisation. It is the people, distinct from the political ideas, that showed bravery in troubling situations.

Turnbull has always worked with found objects, reimagining items out of their everyday context and subverting their meaning to encourage an audience to question what is often ignored as ‘normal’. His fascination with Americana and popular culture seems to have culminated in this exhibition, and there could not be a more appropriate context. It opens just as Trump is sending a fleet to North Korea, sparking ripples of far-right sentiment around the globe.

Ben Turnball

It’s refreshing to see an artist creating a discourse around male identity, American politics and propaganda that doesn’t simply criticise Trump or write off America as a place full of turmoil and confusion. To take a positive lesson from what is happening in the world right now, it is necessary to recognise it for what it is – both a country with an intense history of war, but also a place that has grown from a mixing pot of cultures.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the American election is how it was represented in popular culture. Twitter became a place for debate, television shows made space for comedians to imitate the candidates, and all of a sudden politics was being taken out of grand but isolated rooms to the streets and into the hands of the people.

Collaged vintage comics and the use of flags, toys and military attire make this an all-American exhibition, and an unmissable one at that.

“No Guts, No Glory” is showing at the Saatchi Gallery London, until 8th May.


Written by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins


Artwork by Ben Turnbull courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery


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