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  • On April 26th, 1937,

  • Fascist forces bombed the Basque village of Guernica in Northern Spain.

  • It was one of the worst civilian casualties of the Spanish Civil War,

  • waged between the democratic republic and General Franco's fascist contingent.

  • For Pablo Picasso, the tragedy sparked a frenzied period of work

  • in which he produced a massive anti-war mural,

  • aptly titled \"Guernica.\"

  • The painting is a powerful work of historical documentation

  • and political protest.

  • But while Picasso's artistic motivations are clear,

  • the symbolism of the painting can be as confusing and chaotic as war itself.

  • How can we make sense of this overwhelming image,

  • and what exactly makes it a masterpiece of anti-war art?

  • The painting's monumental canvas is disorienting from the start,

  • rendered in the abstracted Cubist style Picasso pioneered.

  • Cubism deliberately emphasized the two-dimensionality of the canvas

  • by flattening the objects being painted.

  • This afforded viewers multiple

  • and often impossible perspectives on the same object;

  • a technique considered shocking even in Picasso's domestic scenes.

  • But in this context,

  • the style offers a profoundly overwhelming view

  • of violence, destruction, and casualties.

  • Multiple perspectives only compound the horror on display

  • sending the eyes hurtling around the frame in a futile hunt for peace.

  • On the far left, a woman holding her dead child releases a scream;

  • her eyes sliding down her face in the shape of tears

  • and her head bending back unnaturally to echo her baby's.

  • There is the statue of a soldier present below,

  • but he is unable to defend the woman and child.

  • Instead his broken body lies in pieces,

  • his arm clutching a splintered sword in a signal of utmost defeat.

  • The tip of his sword meets a woman's foot as she attempts to flee the devastation.

  • But her other leg appears rooted to the spot,

  • locked in the corner of the canvas even as she stretches to move it.

  • Another victim appears behind this slouching figure.

  • Falling helplessly as flames lick around her,

  • she too is caught in her own hopeless scene.

  • Each of these figures bordering the painting are horribly trapped,

  • giving the work an acute sense of claustrophobia.

  • And where you might expect the canvas' massive size to counteract this feeling,

  • its scale only highlights the nearly life-sized atrocities on display.

  • Some possible relief comes from a lamp

  • held tightly by a ghostly woman reaching out her window.

  • But is her lantern's hopeful glow truly lighting the scene?

  • Or is it the jagged lightbulb

  • thought to represent the technologies of modern warfare

  • which illuminates her view of the chaos below?

  • From the coffin-like confines of her window,

  • her arm guides the viewer back into the fray,

  • to perhaps the most controversial symbols of all

  • two ghostly animals caught in the destruction.

  • Does the screaming horse embody the threat of Franco's military nationalism;

  • or does the spike running through its body convey its victimhood?

  • Does the white bull represent Spain,

  • the country of matadors and a common theme in Picasso's work

  • or does it stand for the brutality of war?

  • In this scene of strife, these animals raise more questions than answers.

  • And additional elements hidden throughout the frame

  • offer even more secrets for close observers.

  • At the top of the canvas flashes a bird desperate to escape the carnage.

  • And the abundance of animals on display may hint at the bombing's date

  • a market day which flooded the streets

  • with villagers, animals, and other potential causalities.

  • Like the bombing of Guernica itself,

  • Picasso's painting is dense with destruction.

  • But hidden beneath this supposed chaos, are carefully crafted scenes and symbols,

  • carrying out the painting's multifaceted attack on fascism.

  • Decades after its creation,

  • \"Guernica\" retains its power to shock viewers and ignite debate,

  • and is often referenced at anti-war gatherings around the world.

  • Hundred of viewers have grappled with its harsh imagery, shattering symbolism

  • and complex political messaging.

  • But even without a close understanding of it's complicated subtext,

  • Picasso's work remains a searing reminder of the true casualties of violence.

On April 26th, 1937,

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    April Lu posted on 2019/05/15
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