Gernika is a place in northern Spain and Guernica is a painting by Pablo Picasso; it is a tapestry that hangs in the UN; a mug; a t-shirt. It is a rallying cry; a call to action to stand up against fascism; it is an anti-fascist banner. Guernica is many things: it has transcended its canvas and the walls of the gallery and it circulates far and wide, shifting shape as it goes. The frequency with which people are moved to recreate Guernica is testament to the ongoing power of Picasso’s image to move people into action.
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica was painted in 1937. It is a very large painting: the canvas is 25 ft 8 inches long by 11 ft 6 inches high (7.82 m by 3.5 m). It is painted in various shades of grey, black and white. Its individual parts can be read as a series of symbols repeated in much of Picasso’s previous work: a cacophony of distressed women; a soldier; a dead baby; a bull; a dying horse; a screaming bird; a light bulb and a lamp.
The painting is Picasso’s representation of the bombing of the civilian population of the Basque town of Gernika in 1937. It has become one of his most widely exhibited works. For forty-four years the painting was constantly on tour and featured in a variety of venues from a car showroom in Manchester to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Picasso prohibited it from going to Spain until 1981 when a democratic government was in place.
Aerial bombardments of civilian populations and fascist activity continue to this day. We have been moved, as other artists and activists before us, to re-make Picasso’s Guernica so as to deploy the power of art against fascism and war.