Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Archive for April, 2013

Re-making Picasso’s Guernica: Art V Fascism – a Collaborative Project

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 26, 2013

Guest post from Maude Casey – Re-making Guernica project

We are a group of artists, academics and activists who have come together in Brighton in order to remake Picasso’s painting, Guernica, as an act of protest. As part of our process of making, we have begun to establish links with WCML, which will continue, in the form of posts on the WCML blog.

Our project began in June 2012, in response to the fact that, during the previous year, we had witnessed the spread of a new fascism.  Virulently Islamophobic, it demonstrates a hatred for immigrant communities as well as for collective organisations, such as trades unions and the Occupy movement, both of which represent the rights of workers  and marginalised people.

In April 2012, communities in Brighton showed great unity in a street mobilisation against fascism. We wanted to continue to develop links between people and groups in Brighton through a collective art project, bringing together artists, activists and communities to share skills of making and experiences of countering racism and fascism through the Re-making of Picasso’s Guernica.

We envisaged the Re-making of Picasso’s Guernica as a large-scale textile piece, or series of textile pieces, that could be used as a banner to be carried or displayed as a wall hanging for a permanent or temporary location.  It is both a work of art and an act of protest.  Different groups are contributing, with support from practising artists, by creating reproductions of the powerful forms created by Picasso to represent the horrors of the aerial bombardment of this small Basque town, in broad daylight, on market day.

As the work of Re-making Picasso’s Guernica has been shared amongst the participants in the project, this collective endeavour is providing a forum for exchanging experiences and understanding of twenty-first century fascism. We shall begin to assemble the forms during a public sewing event at the Jubilee Library in Brighton during Refugee Week in June 2013.

Wounded waitToday is the anniversary of the aerial bombardment of the town of Gernika in Northern Spain on 26th April 1937. On that horrific day, the seven thousand civilian inhabitants, were subjected to three waves of aerial bombardment by the Condor Legion, formed by Franco, Mussolini and Hitler to declare war on the Republican government of Spain, as well as to prepare techniques for their plans for world war.

Picasso learnt of the bombardment in a French newspaper report on 30th April 1937; on 1st May he began the creation of the piece he was to call Guernica, combining the name of the town of Gernika with the French word ‘guerre’ meaning ‘war’.  This awe-inspiring piece of work, which Picasso said belongs to the Spanish Republic, was used as a publicity tool for the Republican cause, and it toured the world raising awareness, prevented by Picasso from remaining in a gallery until the overthrow of Franco.  WCML have been most generous in helping us to trace elements of its journey to Manchester in 1939 and in providing us with material for our first talks and lecture.

Over the next few weeks we shall be updating you on the process of our Re-Making Guernica project, which has been exciting and inspirational.

Next up: who we are and why we decided to collaborate in order to Re-make Guernica.


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Making words work – an attendee’s perspective on Saturday’s EP Thompson event

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 17, 2013

The day held at the People’s History Museum on 13 April to celebrate 50 years of The Making of the English Working Class took place in the context of the death of Mrs Thatcher earlier in the week. Many speakers felt that they could not ignore such an event and, indeed, added some anecdotal material. The real triumph of the day was not the disparagement or veneration of any individual (even E.P. Thompson himself) but the extent to which the importance of the word emerged.

Whilst this might initially not be obvious in the efforts of Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake to read aloud that which was not written to be read aloud, what actually happened was that actors with the skill and commitment to read scholarly prose illuminated exactly what that prose was about. The Making is about words, about hearing the words of those with high ideals who thought that their words would change society but were met with the response of starvation, imprisonment and, for some, the scaffold. By the end of the day the ‘poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott’ were successfully rescued ‘from the enormous condescension of history’.

The programme itself, put together with a wonderful sense of balance, celebrated the word in all manifestations. It was a testament to the power of the word that few people left early. When a less interesting contribution came along (and there were some) there existed the reassurance that what came next would be different.  The readings did not simply occupy the space between the personal stories and the academic readings they formed the glue: they gave the day cohesion.  They also reminded the audience that E.P. Thompson wrote with a profound respect for the intellect and the words of working people.  It is that respect which makes the book readable.

The People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library clearly put substantial effort into the organisation of this day.  It even finished on time, which is an achievement in itself. But, more importantly, the programme was a reflection of the purpose of both establishments.  The galleries and the archives record the stories and struggles of working class people and the centrality of the book, the speech and the pamphlet is shown in their collections of images, voices and, above all, words.  E.P. Thompson rightly celebrated the self-taught and showed in The Making the extent to which those seen as ‘ignorant’ were capable of sustained and sophisticated argument.  If they could not read, then newspapers and pamphlets could be read aloud and argued about.  The celebration of words that took place to celebrate The Making is a reminder that there are still many stories to be uncovered and many campaigns to be run.  The legacy of this day, and of The Making of the English Working Class itself, is to get out there and make those words work.

DW Hargreaves, WCML volunteer and attendee at the conference

[WCML would like to thank Craig Horner from the People’s History Museum for the huge amount of energy he put in to make this event such a success]

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