Great Works: The Crusader 2010 (5.4 x 3.8metres), Gerry Judah

Imperial War Museum North, Manchester

Over the next 12 months you will be able to see this sculpture as you enter the main exhibition area of the Imperial War Museum North, at Salford Quays in Manchester. It is high-hanging dramatically from the wall, bulky, cross-shaped, slightly askew, radiantly white against the black-painted, stainless-steel panelling, as if it might be the suffering saviour himself slumped slightly forward and sideways in his death agonies. This Libeskind building, with its soaring, leaning, steel-plated walls, its eerie unpredictabilities, is an agglomeration of odd, tilting angles, and so it comes as no surprise that this huge, depending sculpture is not smartly squared up either.

It is a museum that looks at war from the point of view of particular human beings. Many of the objects that you see in it belonged to people whose names we know – that is its particular poignancy – a mess kit, identification papers, photographs, rows of helmets. This is not one of those. This sculpture by Gerry Judah is a generalised symbol of the human suffering caused by the enduring madness of war.

The Crusader is dramatically posed, lighter-looking than its mass and its bulk seem to suggest, directly opposite a Harrier Jet AV-8A, which is nosing down as it comes into land. Like Judah's sculpture, the Harrier too is tilted to the side as it simulates landing – they seem to be in a kind of stately come-dancing partnership, one pulling decorously away from the other, and you catch sight of the sculpture through the underside of one of the Harrier's 25ft wings, radiating the kind of white light that you might expect of a religious symbol of some kind. Is this a religious symbol, then? The jury is still out on that one.

What cannot be denied is that it is altogether a curious thing in its polyvalency. You can read it in so many different ways. There is the blatant Christian symbolism of the cross shape itself of course, but once up close, staring up at it, you recognise that this is in fact a representation of a fragment of blasted urban landscape built up and away from that cross shape, which consists of a couple of intersecting streets, containing tower blocks, water towers, and a great, spiky, bristly intermeshing of aerials and satellite dishes, all messily interwoven, the tattered remnants of a neighbourhood pulverised by bombs.

Yes, the sculpture is a kind of cross-shaped island, hanging in the air, on its side, and we are privileged to be getting an almost vertigo-inducing aerial view of it. Yes, it is as if we are looking straight down on it – we can see into the hollowed out shells of buildings, the shattered fragments of collapsed staircases – except that we are, in fact, looking up at it from the floor. This means that we are seeing it from the perspective of the man who might have flown over it and done all the damage, and that uncomfortable thought brings us up short. Yes, perhaps we we are the ones who have committed all these the atrocities in the first place.

There is another interesting fact, too. The almost virginal whiteness strikes us as odd. This is a scene of devastation, and yet it is also strangely etherealised, rendered unreal, by the fact that, tonally speaking, there is nothing here but a dazzling, disembodied whiteness so suggestive of purity and otherworldliness. That word disembodied leads on to another thought. There are no people here either. Not a fragment or a trace of a charred body, not a smear of blood to be seen anywhere. Why is this hanging fragment of urban landscape, which seems to have been smashed by some enraged fist, so empty of any human presence? The sculpture feels utterly still, floating here, wrapped in its own witnessing silence, as if it is in some way a posthumous testimony of some kind. It feels like a shroud-like witness to what happened long ago, the afterlife of a long vanished civilisation of bloodthirsty barbarians, so touchingly unblemished now, and with all evidence of human pain bleached out. A second Pompeii perhaps, magically projected forward into the world of the here and now.

As we look more and more, the general shape seems to change and then change again. Its tilt – that pronounced list – seems to suggest a mighty ship roiling in the waves; looked at again, and it seems to be spinning through the air, slowly turning as it goes. Yes, there is an overall lightness about it, hanging here, as it does, so patiently, in this dazzling, transfiguring white light. And especially so when we see its ghostly form, almost its visual after-echo, reflected in the unpainted stainless steel panelling of the wall close to which it hangs.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Gerry Judah was born in 1951 in Calcutta and grew up in West Bengal. His family moved to London when he was 10 years old. His sculptures explore the devastations of war and the effects that recent conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East have had on the environment.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all