Picasso and the Martyr City of ‘Guernica’

Yesterday, April 26, marked the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in modern history: the bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica (in the Basque Country) by the Germans. The Nazis simply razed the city in 1937 in an effort to support their ally Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Franco eventually won the War and Spain came under one of the most morbid dictatorships in history (1939-1975).

When one thinks of a ‘martyr city’, names like Sarajevo, Grozny, Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately come to one’s mind. But it was Guernica that got ‘immortalized’ thanks to a work of art by Picasso that immediately brought –and still brings- visibility to the tragedy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Guernica would not have been as half as famous as it is if it was not for Picasso’s masterpiece. The majority of people that learned about Guernica did so through and because of the painting, which became a pictorial reminder of the horrors of war in general. In away, Picasso made ‘Guernica’ his. For those who were wondering about the function(s) of art (even though I don’t believe in the need for a function at all), here is one: documenting the human condition.

Now one might wonder: What is Guernica (the painting) doing in Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, hundreds of miles away from Guernica (the city)? How come the city that suffered the tragedy in ‘primera persona’ and inspired the artwork is not the chosen ‘home’ for the painting? Well, we live in a political world as Bob Dylan once said, and even present-day Europe is no stranger to centralism.

But it’s not only politics, it’s also economics: you wanna see Picasso’s Guernica? Go to Madrid, it’s cultural tourism.

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