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Guernica pic courtesy: Wikipedia
Guernica pic courtesy: Wikipedia
Arts Speak

Protest Art - part 1

Divya Menon

Divya Menon

Art and man have been fellow travelers since eons. Art has thrived alongside human civilization as its closest ally, making more than subtle appearances in his daily life in different ways.

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso

Today, ages after man’s first artistic expression, he continues to use art to vent his emotions - express his fears and joys; to give colour and form to his thoughts; to create awareness in society, to invoke thought processes, to arouse a sleeping conscience, to tickle man’s sinking sensibilities and to PROTEST! To rebel is intrinsic and instinctive to human nature. From visual art to performance art, man has been giving voice to his unease about social issues and equally to bring down governments and create revolutions in this world. Sitting at par with all other genres of art is Protest Art which can be just about anything from visual art to performance art functioning as a vehicle of his notes of disagreement – a powerful weapon that challenges ideologies by creating a space that transcends hierarchical boundaries where common man can express himself on a platform, where dialogues and debates can happen. Conceived in an unrestrained space called human mind, Protest Art has often contributed to crucial social change.

This brief, researched narrative is first of a series of some of world’s momentous works of art that have attained magnificence not only because they are beautiful but also because they are profound mediums of sharp, purposeful expression that have transformed the mind of man and then the streets of this world into exceptional museums of art that speak.

Perhaps, the most striking among these is an oil painting by Picasso in 1937 titled Guernica. This huge, gray, black and white work of art with 3.49m X 7.77m dimensions, said to have been painted between April 1937 to June 1937 from his home, brings to the forefront the suffering that people and animals experience during war. This work of art was created in response to the bombing of a Northern Spain Town – Guernica, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Guernica with a whole lot of motifs woven together is a challenge to decipher at first. But as one closely studies the different entities that inhabit the work, one finds that each of these elements play roles, deliver profound dialogues and together they narrate the gruesome story of the bombing of the town of Guernica. A wounded horse, injured women, child, a bull, flames, crumbling walls, a broken sword, a light bulb, newspaper print and other motifs come together to convey many aspects of one great messages in a single frame. He weaves an atmosphere of Spanish culture using the bull and the horse that are vital pegs, the grim colours speak of the oppression and misery that the bombing gave rise to, flames and walls that fall talk about destruction and chaos. Art historians and writers also point towards hope at different points in this composition, through objects placed rather inexplicitly yet strategically, such as a poppy flower in the hand of the fallen soldier, a white motif between the bull and horse and an overhead bulb.

Going back in time, history books and records say that Picasso was commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government to create a large mural for the Spanish Pavillion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. it is also said that he first worked on the theme of an artist’s studio but then 'upon hearing about the bombing of the town of Guernica, urged by the poet Juan Larrea and influenced by eye-witness account of the bombing by George Steer', Picasso abandoned his initial theme and thus in the blood of the comman man, his sorrow, the helplessness of animals and nature was born the massive Guernica at the tips of the brush of Pablo Picasso one of the greatest painters that this world has seen. This work was exhibited at the 1937 Paris International Exposition and then it went on to tour the world as a 'moving' expression of times, both literarily and symbolically.

Guernica may have taken birth in response to the bombing of the basque town of Spain but in the larger canvas of this world, it highlights the trauma of the defenseless, innocent victims of war and violence across the world. Picasso's Guernica has travelled beyond time and finds resonance across the world to this day.