Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

‘Lest we forget’

by Michelle Brooks

In 1985 a tapestry of the Picasso masterpiece ‘Guernica’ was donated to the United Nations by Nelson Rockefeller in recognition of the international mandate held by the organisation. The artwork depicts the catastrophic consequences of a distant geo-politik that pitted a superior military air power against an unsuspecting rural, artisinal village.  Hitler had agreed to help Franco with his nationalistic ambitions, the plan sent German and Italian bombs reigning down on the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain.  On market day, at 4.40pm on April 26th 1937, three hours of non-stop carpet bombing and high-calibre gun-fire began amidst the sounds of the only defence the villagers could muster – the church bells. The town was reduced to rubble with most of the casualties predictably, women, children and animals (arguably the result of choosing market day to perpetrate this act of violence). The strategy sought to demoralise the Basque people who stood in the way of absolute power for Franco.

The painting  ‘Guernica’ depicting the scene painted by Picasso, who was living in Paris at the time, only returned to Spain in 1981 due to Picasso’s request that only when democracy ruled should the painting be repatriated. The painting has come to represent many things to many people all over the world in the various countries in which it was exhibited, most often an anti-war symbol or a rebuttal to nationalism but sometimes such historical artefacts continue to have resonance in the present day.

On the 5th February 2003, General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council attempting to convince them of the need to invade Iraq. Later upon leaving, he walked through the hallway of the 2nd floor where politicians would traditionally stand for the cameras and past a tapestry of the iconic anti-war symbol ‘Guernica’ which unusually, on this occasion had been covered with an enormous drape. However, though Picasso’s warning was hidden and silenced, in hindsight the message is deafening, and perhaps timely, this remembrance Sunday.

Read article ‘War and Peace’ by Derek Gregory for T.I.B.G.

Read about the incident at Guernica

Read about the covering of the tapestry ‘Guernica’

1 comment

  1. Good choice: provokes the question of who the victims of modern warfare mostly are, and mostly don’t get ‘commemorated’ in this striking poignant way, by a master of Modernism no less. Best leave the feminist critique of Picasso for another time….

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