Pablo Picasso stated, "Art is an instrument in the war against the enemy." Picasso’s painting titled Guernica, done in 1937, is a powerful political statement that was painted as an artist’s immediate reaction to the Nazis’s devastating, but casual, bombing on the town of Guernica, a village in northern Spain. The black and white painting that was made from traditional materials of canvas and oil painting looks like a mural because of its sheer size. Picasso made a decision about the size of the canvas to engulf the viewer in the scene. The painting is eleven feet high, and twenty-five and a half feet wide and is visually dramatic due to the lack of color. The absence of color is meant to be reminiscent of a photograph. Picasso used the bull and the horse, which are important characters in Spanish culture, as symbols to represent the onslaught of fascism and the people of Guernica.
Picasso knew that the relationship between art and activism was a long one and that artists have to make decisions about what to represent and how the viewer might interrupt the message. Picasso made bold statements regarding the war and his feeling against the bombing of this quiet village. The painting Guernica, which is at the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection has a tapestry version which hangs in the United Nation’s (U.N.) building in New York City. The tapestry is situated on a large wall and provides the backdrop for diplomats as they make statements to the press. The tapestry was controversially covered with a blue tarp when Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2003, made a statement regarding the Iraq war. This was not the first time the painting has experienced intense political activism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the original painting was the focus of a petition and an act of vandalism. Four hundred artists signed a petition urging Picasso to take the painting out of the United States until after the Vietnam War, and in 1974, Tony Shafrazi spray-painted the words "Kill Lies All" onto the painting to protest the United States’ actions in My Lai.
References and Resources
Cousen, B. (2009). Memory, power and place: where is Guernica? Journal of Romance Studies, 9(2), 47-64.
Simonton, D. K. (2007). The creative process in Picasso's Guernica sketches: Monotonic improvements versus nonmonotonic variants. Creativity Research Journal, 19(4), 329-344.
This blog chronicles my research in activist art and my life as a woman in academia.