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
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam