Imperial War Museum defends plans to hold yoga classes next to bombed-out car and Spitfire exhibits

Naomi Ackerman
·3-min read
Getty Images
Getty Images

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) has defended scheduling yoga classes against a backdrop of exhibits including a Spitfire plane, a V1 missile, and a car destroyed by a suicide bomber.

Military historians have slammed plans to “attract new audiences” to the world-renowned museum by holding £25 yoga classes in the atrium of its Lambeth flagship building.

The IWM shared promotional images for the 75-minute vinyasa flow sessions - set to launch on October 15 - showing a group of amateur yogis smiling and in gym clothes and holding poses.

Visible in the background is the wreckage of the Baghdad Car, a vehicle destroyed by a suicide bombing that killed at least 30 people at Baghdad's Al-Mutanabbi Street book market in March 2007.

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A Spitfire plane can also be seen hanging from the high ceiling, as the yoga group practise on multi-coloured mats.

On its website, the museum billed the atrium as a "soaring and inspiring" setting for yoga sessions.

A blurb reads: “Find your inner peace by undertaking a mindful reflection in a breath-taking space, finishing with a story-led Savasana accompanied by live music.”

On Twitter the museum posted: “Try yoga at IWM London or take the pilot’s seat in a veteran Mark 1 Spitfire @IWMDuxford as part of our brand-new events programme. Explore all new activities.”

Military history expert, Andy Saunders, former editor of Britain at War magazine and TV commentator, responded by calling the classes “singularly inappropriate and ill conceived”.

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Another Twitter user, who claimed to be a military history graduate, wrote: “Look at this promo shot.

“The car was blown up in Baghdad, 5 March 2007 by a car bomb which killed 38 people. 38 people.”

Dave Doherty said that "at best, this is an ill judged move made by people with clearly no grasp of their surroundings; at worst, this is incredibly offensive to many people both living and dead. I urge you to reconsider the yoga.”

Another user added: “Yoga at the IWM? Right under a V-1 flying bomb, the type that killed thousands of people and terrorised entire cities? Come on. No, just no.”

The sessions’ ticket price also includes a tour of the museum.

The museum sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. The Imperial War Museum, like other top London sites, has had to close its doors for three months over lockdown, losing huge sums in missed ticket sales.

In a comment sent to the Standard, an Imperial War Museums spokesperson said yoga classes are to be held in the museum as a way of “attracting new audiences”.

The institution said the atrium “provides a spacious and profoundly contemplative setting for an activity such as yoga and enables people to connect with our collection in a totally different and unique way”.

The statement read: “We are aware of the concerns expressed by people on Twitter regarding the Yoga classes and appreciate that it is taking place in a space which holds a number of objects representing sensitive subject matters.

“IWM London’s atrium provides a spacious and profoundly contemplative setting for an activity such as yoga and enables people to connect with our collection in a totally different and unique way and, through the inclusion of a tour with the ticket, we are encouraging people to return to the museum to gain a deeper understanding of our objects and the incredible stories behind them.

“We have, and always will, ensure our collection items are treated with the utmost respect.”

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