I stood in front of Guernica last week, at the Museo Reina Sofia, amongst crowds of people. I couldn’t speak, yet I was surprised by how many visitors were murmuring and mumbling while looking at this piece of art. I was trying to unpin the many layers in the painting and speaking seemed like too much hard work on top of that. Every space my eye turned to was another new splash of something, another way of expressing the awfulness of war, another small line or shadow or was it my imagination? I stood there and felt nothing but despair and pain, knowing that the government in the UK has just voted to bomb Syria and that we have learned nothing in the years since Picasso conceived the worlds most powerful anti-war protest painting. I was going to post the image here but I honestly think it wouldn’t do it justice. It’s got to be seen in real life, upclose, where you can almost smell the brushstrokes and the sweat from the painter.
In September, we mourned the death of little Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee who washed up on the shores of Turkey, at the age of three. Only a few months ago, the nation cried and sobbed over his tiny body, face down in the surf; his red and blue outfit at odds with the sandy shores and blue skies, normally associated with cheap package holidays. We saw pictures of the policeman carrying him to his final resting place. Never again, we said. No one should suffer like that, we said. And now, a just months later, we are bombing little Aylan’s country. We are forcing more families with young children to flee, in search of a better life. We are creating more migrants, which we also complain about. Let’s not even talk about how many innocent people we are killing.
We are a generation lead by schoolyard bullies who know nothing about the finesse of painting, poetry or protest. Where is our generation’s Picasso? Is Banksy our only one? His latest piece features Steve Jobs, with a bag slung over his shoulder and a first generation Apple computer in the other hand. This is a clear shout out to the America that is populated by sons and daughters of immigrants, in protest to Trumps latest anti-migrant spewings.
I also saw an exhibition in the CentroCentro space that was art from refugee children who have been traumatised either physically or mentally by the war. I refuse to believe that any politician who had seen works of art such as this could possibly send troops to war. Their “Little Hopes” of love, of peace, of happy every after, their simplistic view of adapting after life had dealt them the cruel blow of loss of limbs or family members, their faith that some time there would be a life that they could be proud of, took the breath from me. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried while looking at their paintings and seeing the wishes they had for themselves and for the world.
You should check out the work that the organisation do at Global Humanitaria. You can buy paintings, donate or volunteer and I think it’s really worthwhile.
We have a duty to ‘artfully’ protest acts of war. It is our responsibility as poets, painters, actors and writers to channel our rage and frustration onto the page and stage and leave our mark for future generations. To know that there are children now therapeutically using art to work through the trauma means that we need to create pieces of art, so that others may access the therapy they need. We need to continue to do this so that years from now, people can look back and try and find the protest in amongst the facts of war. Through the internet now it is easier to document and promote work and we should take advantage of the opportunity presented to us. It is also our job to raise the next generation of artistic protesters. We need generations filled with ‘warrior poets’, and ‘warrior painters’ rather than just ‘warriors.’