Thursday, April 26, 2007

Guernica/Gernika as Symbol

Picasso images are all over the place. I've seen them in Spain, in France, in England, Scotland, New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit and probably elsewhere. They are distinct and memorable; Picasso's style infuses popular culture as much as Andy Warhol's. Still, I was nearly blown away when I saw the gigantic copy of Picasso's Guernica at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan in the 1980s. More than all the diplomats and bureaucrats combined, it makes us wonder at our seeming need to exterminate those who oppose us. Even so, I don't think we will stop indulging in war and genocide. Guernica seems to recognize that sentiment, too.

From Gijs van Hensbergen, Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon (US, 2004; British version has the shorter sub-title pictured above):

Guernica had tapped into the ancient and epic rituals of death. But it was also a silent requiem. The contorted, grief-stricken faces of women, with their gaping cup-shaped mouths, seem to wail up to the heavens in despair. But there is no sound. The screaming horse, with its vocal chords cut -- as was the practice before horses were supplied with padding during the corrida -- also remains silent in its pain. Guernica symbolised a requiem for an entire generation. (p. 70)

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