Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Guernica 2.0:
Ron English & the Rebirth of Picasso's Rebellion

--Feature: "The Carvajal Chronicles w/Pedro Carvajal"--

Historians have always stated that those who ignore history tend to repeat it. Perhaps this statement is most clearly represented in the Guernica paintings composed by Picasso and generations later by New York artist Ron English.

The notion of art as a form of activism isn’t new. Pablo Picasso created the most famous and celebrated painting of the twentieth century as a personal reaction to the horrors and destruction of war. Titled “GUERNICA”, it depicts the Nazi German bombing of Guernica, Spain, by twenty-eight bombers, on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, becoming the first aerially attacked city in history. Picasso painted this massive masterpiece as his way to express to the world the meaningless carnage of wars. The attack killed between 250 and 1,600 people, and many more were injured. It is modern art's most powerful antiwar statement.

The bombing inspired Picasso. Within 15 days of the attack, Pablo Picasso began painting this mural. On completion The Spanish government commissioned Pablo Picasso to paint a large mural for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exposition (the 1937 World's Fair in Paris). The Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour brought the Spanish civil war to the world's attention. Guernica epitomizes the tragedies of war and the suffering war inflicts upon individuals. This monumental work has eclipsed the bounds of a single time and place, becoming a perpetual embodiment of peace.

Now, let’s fast forward to March 19th, 2003 when Baghdad became the first city to be aerially attacked in the 21st century, and with it in fact becoming the first war of the new millennium.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq, from March 19 to May 1, 2003, was spearheaded by the United States, backed by British forces and smaller contingents from Australia, Poland and Denmark. A number of other countries were involved in its aftermath. The invasion marked the beginning of the current Iraq War.

According to the President of the United States George W. Bush and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair, the reasons for the invasion were "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." But by January 2003 CBS poll, 64% of Americans approved of military action against Iraq. 63% wanted President Bush to find a diplomatic solution rather than going to war with Iraq, and 62% believed the threat of terror would increase if war was waged with Iraq.

It was that year (in March 2007) that I had the unique opportunity to travel to Galicia, Spain with Ron English to attend the 3rd TUI International Documentary Festival. As part of this fun and engaging event, the festival programmers, Angel Sanchez and Sara Garcia asked us to design five billboards to be posted for public display in the heart of the historic district within the old and beautiful city of Tui for the enjoyment of the people of Pontevedra.

This incredible opportunity gave Ron and I the chance to do something we could have rarely done in New York City or the US, a legally green-lighted culture jamming attack! We put up huge billboards displaying riveting and even comic images with intense and subversive underlying social and political commentary. Interestingly enough, two of these five billboards were inspired by the original Picasso’s Guernica. One depicting Guernica 15 minutes before the air bombing, and the other depicting Guernica after the carnage caused by it. The only difference that in this case Guernica is now Baghdad.

I find it interesting that Ron English has become so obsessed with Guernica. In fact, to my knowledge, Ron has painted over forty different versions of PICASSO’S GUERNICA over the past fifteen years. And when it comes to billboard liberation, culture jamming, and public statements, Ron is perhaps the most prolific guerrilla artist there is out there. I’m almost positive he holds the world record for the most billboards liberated: over a thousand and still counting.

For centuries, even before the likes of Picasso, art was used to both chronicle and question the sentiments of the day. Some of this art reflected on ideas unique to the time, while others, as perhaps in the case in Guernica (both Picasso' and Ron's), seem to be ideas sadly repeating in time.

Pedro Carvajal is a respected New York City based documentary filmmaker whose work spans coverage of issues such AIDS, Addiction, Art amongst others. Pedro was born in Maracay, a lovely city surrounded by cloud forests in Venezuela. Carvajal's video column on The Lohasian,"The Cavajal Chronicles," will feature video expose's on leading social issues of the day. Pedro can be reached directly at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cooooooooooooooooool! im really inspired.