Keagan Larkin

Artist Catalogue

Virtual Exhibition


In my exhibition, Currency & Conflict, I delve into the intricate relationship between war and money, a dynamic that has reverberated through human history for centuries. This symbiotic interplay shapes personal lives, economies, societies, political power, and global dynamics. Drawing inspiration from Emily Gilbert’s insightful work, “Money as a ‘weapons system’ and the entrepreneurial way of war” (2015), I explore this complex connection through a series of artworks that serve as a commentary on this sensitive subject.

Given South Africa’s tumultuous history, I grappled with the ethical implications of depicting bodies and violence. To navigate this, I chose to create a visual narrative using the motifs present on banknotes and coins, represented through animals. This approach not only sidesteps potential pitfalls but also highlights the animalistic nature inherent in wartime periods, linking back to the pervasive influence of money in our largely capitalistic world. Extensive research revealed that many countries involved in conflicts featured animals on their issued currency. These creatures serve as encoded symbols of national identity, power, and historical significance. By incorporating these animals, I add depth to the representation of [inter]national dynamics during times of conflict.

The centrepiece of my exhibition, “Over 120 Years of War” (2023), stands at an imposing seven-by-two meters. This monumental artwork provides a visual, non-chronological summary of twenty conflicts spanning from The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (2022 – present). The fantastical battle scene showcases a diverse array of fauna from various biomes, representing creatures from land, sky, and sea. Interwoven with the battling animals are remnants of human conflict - spears, arrows, and flags - symbolizing the multifaceted and historical aspects of war. The multilayered, abstracted background - reminiscent of South African banknote colours - adds another layer of symbolism. Maps, both real and abstracted, further complicate the narrative, blurring the line between past and present, highlighting the ever-evolving nature of conflicts and territories.

In my series, “If Wars Were Banknotes,” I explore these conflicts on a more intimate scale, aligning with the size of South African banknotes. These laser-engraved rubber stamps allow for audience interaction, encouraging viewers to engage with the complex relationship between war, money, and the act of reproduction.

This body of work serves as a bridge between academic research, personal interpretation, and the socio-political context of South Africa’s past. By representing history through the lens of “Currency and Conflict,” I aim to unearth a facet of South Africa’s history that often remains overlooked; this also allows the exhibition to act as a platform for conversations about nationalism, violence, economic impact, and the enduring legacy of conflicts. Through my artworks, I invite viewers to reflect on the profound interplay between war and money, and its far-reaching consequences on our world. “Currency & Conflict” serves as a testament to the power of art to shed light on complex and pressing issues, providing a space for reflection, dialogue, and understanding.

“War is a matter not so much of arms as of money” Thucydides