Three international conferences from September 2014 to September 2015

Design History Society Conference, Design for War and Peace, 4-6 September 2014, University of Oxford

On day one of the 2014 Design History Society conference Design for War and Peace our paper was presented: ‘Remaking Picasso’s Guernica as a banner. A work of art; an act of protest.’ Megha Rajguru and I presented the banner and spoke about the project. We were part of a panel entitled: Textiles of Peace and Protest, which included two other papers: Marilyn Cohen’s Dressed to Dissent: ‘Catch 22’ Clothing and Clementine Power’s The AIDS Memorial Quilt: Mourning an On-going War. We spoke about the motivation and collective process of making the banner. Time was also spent focusing on the materials we used in the banner and here is an excerpt from the paper discussing these fabrics:

“In the remaking, we have used materials such as Khadi and Keffiyeh, both fabrics of activism. Mahatma Gandhi introduced Khadi during the colonial struggles in India to boycott imported textiles and ultimately promote Swadeshi or home rule. Khadi was homespun and handwoven to make fabric for clothing, which became an important collective act of protest 1. We have used Khadi in the making of the homes and buildings depicted in Guernica. It makes a poetic link with Gandhi’s campaign for home rule.

The banner had travelled to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for the 2013 Design History Society conference. Ahmedabad is home of Gandhi’s non-violent movement, and of the fabric Khadi. These facts propelled us to take the banner to the city and conduct a sewing in the grounds of the National Institute of Design, where students still weave Khadi fabric.

Part of the bull’s body is also made in Khadi. The bull is sometimes interpreted as signifying fascism and at other times is thought to represent activism. Interestingly in contemporary India, Khadi is an icon of Indian nationalism, and yet it also fluctuates between an association with Swadeshi (home rule) that Gandhi fought for, and post independence political corruption. Dipesh Chakrabarty writing in 2001 in the journal of Postcolonial Studies highlights this paradox when discussing Khadi’s presence in public life in India as: “a semiotic of ‘corruption’ […] that […] once read ‘purity’ and ‘renunciation’ and now [reads] as corruption and thievery.”

 Another shape on the banner that incorporates a textile with political significance is the dying soldier. As a collective we discussed the dying soldier with his broken sword in Picasso’s painting, and we decided to make him a Palestinian, using a Keffiyeh, which is a widely recognised fabric employed as a form of protest by Palestinians from the1960s. The soldier holds an olive branch, which symbolizes peace – but also calls up the thousands of ancient olive trees bulldozed from Palestinian farmers’ lands in order to build more than 400,000 Israeli settler homes.

On the body of Picasso’s horse we decided to draw tiny figures, to represent the uncounted and unnamed people killed in drone attacks.

We have also introduced some colour to an essentially monochromatic image, alluding to racial diversity manifest in the shapes of the mother and the dead baby.

These complex layers of meanings and metaphors represented by the various shapes and fabrics, bring together elements of historic and contemporary politics. This often provokes discussion on the connections between aerial bombardments of civilian populations from the past with more recent atrocities.”


[1] Susan S. Bean “Gandhi and Khadi: the Fabric of Indian Independence in The Textile Reader edited by Jessica Hemmings (London:Berg, 2012) 234-246, for discussion upon community see page 243.

2 Chakrabarty, D 2001, ‘Clothing the Political Man: A Reading of the Use of Khadi/White in Indian Public Life’, Postcolonial Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 27-38, see page 88 for discussion upon Khadi and corruption.

 Megha Rajguru and Nicola Ashmore


Understanding Conflict: Forms and Legacies of Violence Research Cluster, Complicity Conference, 31 March – 1 April 2015, University of Brighton. 

Inspired by the experience of collectively remaking Picasso’s Guernica as a protest banner, I began researching other collaborative remakings of Picasso’s Guernica. I presented my research findings at the Complicity Conference. The paper was titled: ‘Action, Collaboration and Creation: Remakings of Picasso’s Guernica as an Antidote to Complicity’. The idea for this paper developed from Pablo Picasso’s refusal to allow his painting Guernica to go to Spain until a democratically elected government was in place. The painting marks the moment in the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939) when the civilian population of Gernika suffered a devastating aerial attack on the 26th April 1937 by the fascist forces of Europe (Germany, Italy and Spain) ordered by the Spanish fascist dictator General Francisco Franco. Franco consciously used art to reinforce his nationalistic rhetoric. Picasso was adamant he was not going to allow Guernica to be complicit in Franco’s rule and prohibited the painting from going to Spain until “a genuine Spanish republic had been restored.” Consequently, Guernica did not go to Spain until 1981.

The paper I presented brought together three remakings of Guernica as antidotes to a prescribed state of complicity present within democratic society. The remakings, through their acts of protest, expose the underlying violence in relations of power. A common thread found in all three remakings is the artistic opposition to governments which chose to sacrifice civilian populations to pursue their own agendas; each one rejects a state of complicity with a government’s action.

London-based Polish artist Goshka Macuga’s The Nature of the Beast (2009) contests the 2003 US led Iraq invasion; The Keiskamma Guernica (2010) made by people from villages in the Eastern Cape of South Africa challenges the government’s refusal to comprehensively respond to the HIV and Aids epidemic in this area; and Remaking of Picasso’s Guernica as a Protest Banner (2013) makes connections between historic and current government- led aerial attacks on civilian populations, through its presence at protests against the bombing of Gaza, and outside the EDO MBM Ltd weapons component factory in Moulscoomb, Brighton, that supplies the Israeli military in the summer of 2014.

Picasso once said, “every act of creation is first an act of destruction”. The remakings of Guernica presented in this paper embody this phenomenon and reveal an important, and ongoing, dialogue that links art and activism, and rejects a state of complicity with governments which are responsible for suffering.

Nicola Ashmore


Design History Society Conference: “How we live and How we might live”, 11-13 September 2015, California College of the Arts, San Francisco.

On day three of the Design History Society conference “How we live and How we might live” I presented a paper entitled: “International Remakings of Picasso’s Guernica: Action, Collaboration and Creation.” Since Picasso’s creation of Guernica, the painting has been reproduced and recreated in many forms, traversing the confines of fine art and moving into the world of design. Picasso himself ensured that Guernica would circulate far and wide, in the form of a postcard.

This paper focused upon two remakings of Guernica in the form of large-scale tapestries; they are considered here as a manifestation of design as resistance. It is the process of collaborative creation and the intended and actual usage that renders these remakings a challenge to “How we live” and an exploration of “How we might live.” The remakings, through their acts of protest, expose the underlying violence in relations of power concerning specific instances of government action. London-based Polish artist Goshka Macuga’s The Nature of the Beast (2009) contests the 2003 US-led Iraq invasion. Macuga’s exhibition featured the Rockefellor Guernica tapestry as a backdrop to a bookable and free public meeting space. Macuga’s display notably drew attention to the literal cover-up of the tapestry whilst exhibited in the UN headquarters in 2003, in preparation for Colin Powell’s speech on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that signalled the invasion. The Keiskamma Guernica (2010) tapestry made by people from the villages in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, challenges the government’s refusal to comprehensively respond to the HIV and Aids epidemic in this area. A common thread found in both these works is the creative opposition to governments which chose to sacrifice civilian populations in pursuit of their own agendas; both pieces reject a state of complicity with a government’s action.

Nicola Ashmore





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