1914FACES2014 Les Gueules cassées: disfigurement and its legacies

University of Exeter, 12th-14th March 2015

The First World War saw unprecedented numbers of facially injured soldiers survive the battlefield. The experience of these gueules cassées, as they became known in France, has given rise to a unique cultural history, and one which is now being rewritten in the centenary years of the First World War. This conference, arising from the INTERREG IV-funded project 1914FACES2014, led by the Institut Faire Faces and the University of Exeter, assesses the legacy of the gueules cassées and the broader issues concerning disfigurement and expression at stake there.

The First World War and its immediate aftermath saw unprecedented innovations in the surgical field, with surgeons such as Hippolyte Morestin and Harold Gillies pioneering techniques which would transform facial reconstructive surgery. Just as artistic practice fed into surgical practice (in the work of sculptors as mask-makers or epithesists), so the radically new forms of surgery developed at this time altered the context in which artists represented the face. At the same time, understandings and representations of the face have radically changed since the First World War, from segregation of facially injured veterans following the First World War to recognition of facial difference as a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act. This conference will explore the disputed histories of the gueules cassées in the British and French contexts and beyond, along with a broad-based consideration of the face and facial difference. It will coincide with a major exhibition entitled Faces of Conflict: the Impact of the First World War on Art and Reconstructive Surgery at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter.

We are delighted to announce the following keynote speakers: Prof Bernard Devauchelle (Institut Faire Faces), Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck, University of London), James Partridge (Changing Faces) and Louisa Young (novelist).

Prof Bernard Devauchelle is Professor of Maxillofacial Surgery and Stomatology, University of Amiens, France, and the president of the Institut Faire Faces. Prof Devauchelle carried out the first partial face transplant in 2005. His many publications include La Fabrique du visage : de la physiognomonie antique à la première greffe (with François Delaporte, 2010).

Dr Suzannah Biernoff is Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Visual Culture, Birbeck, University of London.  Her research has spanned medieval and modern periods: her publications include Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages (2002), and she currently works on war and visual culture in early twentieth-century Britain. Her book Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement is due out later this year.

James Partridge is Founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the leading UK charity supporting and representing people with disfigurements. James was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 2005 and was the winner of Britain’s most admired Charity Chief Executive for 2010 and the Beacon Prize for Leadership, also in 2010.

Louisa Young graduated in modern history from Trinity College, Cambridge. She is the author of thirteen books, including The Book of the Heart (a cultural history of the human heart); A Great Task of Happiness, the life of Kathleen Scott, and most recently the novel My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, in which facial injury looms large, and The Heroes’ Welcome (HarperCollins, 2011 and 2014), set during and immediately after WWI. The third of this series is to be published in 2015. Her books have been selected for Cityread for London and the Richard & Judy Book Club 2012, nominated for the Impac Award, won the Galaxy Audiobook of the Year 2011, and been shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, the Costa Novel of the Year, the Galaxy Book of the Year and the Orange Prize. Between them they are published in 36 languages.

You can view the Programme‌.