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  • I first discovered Felicia Browne's work very recently

  • and it was just extraordinary, it was an extraordinary feeling to discover

  • this person who had been willing to sacrifice her life for a cause.

  • To think about her as coming from

  • the receiving culture that my father came into, as a refugee,

  • she was part of the

  • kind of network that saved his life.

  • Who was Felicia Browne?

  • That's a very interesting question, you know, without her archives she may have never been considered as an artist

  • but we have her archives in the Tate archive and we have her story of who she was.

  • Felicia Browne was born in London in 1904,

  • in a relatively prosperous middle class family.

  • She went to the Slade School to study art in the 1920s

  • but probably the main turning point in her life was in 1928

  • when she went to study sculpture in Berlin because it coincided with the rise of Nazism

  • and she was drawn into the anti-fascist politics of that time.

  • When Felicia Browne returned from Berlin she joined the communist party

  • and she came under surveillance from MI5

  • who then monitored her career until her departure for Spain in 1936.

  • Over 2500 British men and women went to fight in the international brigades

  • or serve in medical services in the Spanish Civil War.

  • I think it's a British history in a way that, really, could be more acknowledged,

  • British people, probably, need to know a lot more about the altruism that they showed at that particular period

  • towards people who were really suffering and in trouble.

  • I think it's a proud moment.

  • Shortly after her arrival in Barcelona,

  • the military rebellion against the elected government of the Spanish Republic took place and

  • on the streets of Barcelona there was street fighting between the rebel soldiers and workers militias

  • and Felicia Browne witnessed this.

  • So, in early August she was finally able to join the militia

  • and the last recorded words that we have are her saying to a British journalist, on the steps of the barracks,

  • I'm a member of the London communist party and I can fight as well as any man.

  • The next we hear of her is on 22 August when,

  • by this stage, her militia group had gone to fight on the Aragon front.

  • They then took part in a raid,

  • one of the Italian volunteers was wounded

  • and Felicia Browne went to his assistance

  • and in the process she was shot dead.

  • After her death, her sketches that she had been drawing of the Republican militia

  • were retrieved and were sent back to London

  • and there they were put on sale as part of an exhibition to raise funds for Spanish medical aid.

  • Felicia Browne was probably the first British person to die in the Spanish Civil War

  • and certainly the only British woman to play a combatant role.

  • My father was a Republican journalist and he was part of the move out of Spain when the Second Republic fell in 1939,

  • this is a story that we simply didn't know, such a huge event in his life

  • and which meant that he was exiled to this country.

  • I've explored this conflict and period of history through my work,

  • using some of the objects that are very significant in the history, my family history.

  • I have used a play by my father called Tierra cautiva which he wrote in response to

  • basically the continuing dictatorship.

  • I use objects as sort of recipients of memory, really

  • and the objects I find which relate to the history, I use in lots of different ways,

  • so I might think about using them in an assemblage piece

  • and try and construct a piece which contains layers of meaning and association.

  • I might also take an object like a suitcase and

  • look at the traces of wear and tear on a suitcase and think about the history that's it's passed through and the things that it's contained

  • and then I quickly realised that

  • a lot of the power of the suitcase was to do with the textures and the kind of damage.

  • So then what I did was actually start to make some painterly responses when I was

  • thinking about landscape and the landscape of exile

  • which are what these paintings are about.

  • I do see these objects as an archive, I think I'm amassing something which

  • is happening quite intuitively without perhaps too much expectation

  • of what might happen to them in the future because I'm very conscious of how temporal things are anyway.

  • I think this could be termed a sort of emotional exhumation of memory, in the same way that

  • people are working on exhuming the bodies of people who were killed in the Civil War.

  • Some people say that memory was also killed

  • and murdered in the Civil War, so it's a kind of a parallel exploration and enterprise, I suppose.

  • It was mind blowing really

  • to discover Felicia Browne.

  • The fact that her drawings can come back to us

  • means that she is alsoshe didn't just sacrifice her life, she also witnessed something.

  • You know, she in a sense is a footnote in history

  • but a person that can tell us so much more than

  • perhaps what's written in the history books.

  • This was a person who was ahead of her time in terms of

  • becoming, in a sense, an unofficial war artist

  • so she really wore her politics on her sleeve

  • and I think that's quite unusual to see within an artist's archive.

I first discovered Felicia Browne's work very recently

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Felicia Browne: Unofficial War Artist | Animating the Archives

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    serena posted on 2019/02/24
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