On 26 April, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism. The Library played its part in their initial research about the painting coming to England. Now read on…
We held two public sewings in the Jubilee Library, Brighton on Sundays 16th and 23rd June 2013. We were glad to launch the Re-Making Guernica banner into the public domain in this venue. Rachel Whitbread, Community Engagement Manager, was most helpful and supportive during the weeks of preparation, enabling us to occupy a space in the very centre of the library’s ground floor area. The site staff were also brilliant; Les organised the moving of tables from elsewhere in the building and he arranged them so that we could lay out the banner in its full length, arranging chairs around it so that any members of the public who wanted to join in with the sewing would have the space to do so.
Photo by Emilia Poisson
We were absolutely inspired and thrilled by the response to our public sewing of Guernica. At several points on both days, we had queues developing behind each chair, as people were drawn to join in. It was vividly obvious what a diverse range of people use our local library, and what a crucial part the library plays in the lives of so many people, as a space to engage with others, and to seek access to books, films and information. People of all ages, from 13 to 94, older and younger; women and men; from a range of cultural backgrounds: all were curious, all decided to sit down, to stitch, and to share stories of their lives with one another.
We heard stories of people who were children evacuated from London to Sussex during the Blitz, and who never saw any of their families again for forty years. We heard from Spanish people for whom Guernica was woven into their family histories during the long years of fascist rule in Spain, and for whom Picasso’s painting became a focus of celebration when it ended its years of exile, returning to Madrid upon the death of Franco. We heard of a family in Palestine who sewed together, as we were doing, but on the floor, so that they could move around the textile to sew its centre as well as its edges. We heard from young men who had always wanted to sew, and who sat with us to learn blanket stitch so that they could join in, and women who hated sewing but were moved to contribute some stitches to this collective project. People explained to one another how to make particular stitches; people who became knotted up in tangled threads were soothed and shown how it is usually gentleness that wins the day in these situations; people experienced the realisation that skill or perfection are less relevant than eagerness and willingness. Everyone who joined in did so with awesome passion, expressing ownership and engagement.
Photo by Emilia Poisson
At the end of the second day, people expressed sadness that that was that: the final session. They said things like: When will they be doing it again? It’s so enjoyable, sitting down together and doing something like this. The comments on our feedback forms said things like: Such an enjoyable way to be enlightened; Wonderful way to get together and hear people’s stories. These responses vividly illustrate many things: how precious our public libraries are, as venues for gathering, coming together, working together; how passionately people crave collective activities; how people gravitate towards public spaces which offer different choices to those of buying and consuming.
Perhaps most of all, these experiences reveal how people gradually realise that ‘they’ can become ‘we’, and that we can all decide to organise things together, so as to oppose the ‘they’ who have alienated us from the power of our collective creativity, imagination and passion. It was very powerful for us to experience these aspects of collaborative creativity, and to realise once again that, at a time when they are most cruelly under threat, they are the very force that could undermine and subvert this threat.
We look forward to our future public sewing events; we have dates lined up around the country soon to be confirmed.
Maude Casey, Re-Making Guernica , remakingpicassosguernica.files.wordpress.com