In Praise of … Guernica

Detail from Goshka Macuga’s tapestry version of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, on loan to London’s Whitechapel gallery.  Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Below is an editorial published in The Guardian (UK) on Thursday March 26, 2009. The subtitle of the piece is ‘Flailing bulls and horses show that the visceral horrors of war are not just an affront to human civilisation, but to life.’ This is the piece in entirety:

In occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer who had barged his way into Picasso’s apartment pointed at a photo of the mural, Guernica, asking: “Did you do that?” “No,” Picasso replied, “you did”, his wit fizzing with the anger that animates the piece. Work started weeks after German bombers had unleashed an early dose of Blitzkreig on the Basque town from which the work takes its name. It was first shown at the world fair in Paris, supposedly a showcase for scientific progress, but the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a small Spanish town proved technology’s darker side. As in Picasso’s cubist days, there are symbols and broken shapes aplenty, but with Guernica there is no need to decipher. The message is stark, with immediate impact. In black and white, the piece has the urgency of a newspaper photo. Flailing bulls and horses show that the visceral horrors of war are not just an affront to human civilisation, but to life. With the help of Stepney trade unionists, keen to raise awareness of Spain’s civil war, in 1939 Guernica came to Whitechapel art gallery. Next week the gallery reopens after an overhaul, and a full-size tapestry copy will form part of an installation by artist Goshka Macuga. It is borrowed from the UN, where it normally hangs outside the security council chamber. When Colin Powell was setting out the American case for war against Iraq in 2003, it was decided it would be “appropriate” to cover it up, a tale that offers a powerful rejoinder to Wildean quips about all art being perfectly useless.

This Land is your land, This Land is my land…

What’s happening right now in Israel is awful. But I’m not sure what is to be done about it. Both sides are behaving very badly, and have been (off and on) since the nation of Israel was founded.

The situation in Israel right now is like infidelity. You can explain it. But it doesn’t excuse it.

I wrote something a few years ago that I like. Here’s the quote that resonates:

Last week North Korea tested long range ballistic missiles. The United States and others protested. But when the United States models for the world that one can only rely on ones own country, it is folly not to expect other countries to follow our example. We have created a world in which the ability to rely on only ourselves has become not a security strength, but a weakness. We set a bad example.

We’re talking about a plot of land that’s actually slightly smaller than New Jersey. And within that, we’re dealing with a first world nation living in Hoboken, and a 3rd world nation trying to emerge in Hacensack. Peace ain’t gonna happen that way. And that is just one of many, many, issues with a two state solution.

I don’t blame either side for their behaviour (in a certain way.) But it doesn’t excuse it. What is and has been happening on both sides is in-excusable.

At some point you hope that a stronger partner will lead the couple toward a solution. And it is not unreasonable to expect a country explicitly based on a faith to conduct its affairs on a higher moral plane. Not that that has helped Tibet (I mean the western province of China) much. In the end we’re gonna need some partners to help both sides before a long-term solution will emerge.