By Nancy Todd
At the Reina Sophia Museum in Madrid, silence filled the gallery of about 40 people. There was a sense of reverence. Grief. Prayer. Some wept. I did. People lingered. Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, continues to teach and inspire.
The power of art to affect social change. The power of social change to affect art. This visit to the Reina Sophia Museum in Madrid was one of the most emotionally evocative art experiences of my life.
The painting reminds me not to be silent regarding my values. That we must all speak our truth in whatever ways we can. As a parent, a writer, a taxi driver, a baker or banker.
The history. Franco and his Nazi-Fascist-Catholic Church dictatorship marched into power in 1936. (There are photos of Franco with priests and bishops giving the heil Hitler salute). In 1937, the Spanish Civil War began as a counter to Franco’s regime. To demonstrate his don’t-fuck-with-me-stance, Franco teamed with Nazi Germany for the bombing of Guernica, Basque Country, located in Northern Spain. The region was a bastion of resistance against Franco.
It was a market day in the government seat of Guernica on April 26, 1937. When the bustling market was at its peak at German fighter planes began the bombing that destroyed 3/4 of the city. Planes continued the murders by machine gunning civilians who had run into fields to escape. This was the first time in history that devastating bombing potential had been demonstrated.
Picasso was commissioned by the resistance forces, the Spanish Republican government, to create a mural for the Paris International Exposition in 1937 to depict the horrors of Guernica. The painting has gained world fame as a reminder of the tragedies of war and as a symbol of peace.
Guernica shows a horse dying in agony, a mother holding a dead baby, dismemberment. Fire. Pain. Death. Torment. The painting was shown in numerous countries including the U.S. at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Immense at 25 feet long and 11 feet high, Guernica is in somber tones of grays, black, and white. Picasso did not want it returned to Spain until the country was free of dictatorship. Democracy was reestablished in 1978. Guernica remained at MOMA until 1981 when it was transported to Madrid. A great irony is that Franco’s main seat of government power was in Madrid. Now, in Madrid, the world can be reminded of the importance of peace. But, have we learned from the lessons of Guernica?