On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso's death, UNHCR delves into the parallelism between what represents one of his main works, Guernica, and the current situation of more than 110 million refugees and forcibly displaced people due to war, persecution and human rights violations.
Actress Elena Anaya and journalist Carlos del Amor hosted the event at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, where #GuernicaRefugiado was presented. Guernica and some of its iconic elements have been "sheltered" in five other cities reinterpreted in different styles by Spanish artists and refugees who have collaborated in the action.
This action linking art and solidarity has inaugurated the Forum Spain with Refugees where commitments are put on the table to improve the integration of refugees from the reception, education, employability, sports, and international cooperation sectors.
Madrid, June 20, 2023, on the occasion of World Refugee Day, UNHCR has presented at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid the #GuernicaRefugiado, an action to value art as a vehicle for raising awareness at the opening of the Spain with Refugees Forum.
Actress Elena Anaya and cultural journalist Carlos del Amor, who presented this action, highlighted the parallelism between this universal icon created by Picasso in 1937 and the reality of more than 110 million refugees and forcibly displaced people in the world today. A reality that, not so long ago and not so far away, was also experienced in Spain.
Through #GuernicaRefugiado, UNHCR wanted to symbolically change the fate of the characters in the work, who have found refuge and protection in museums and art galleries in different Spanish cities (Bilbao, Pamplona, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville), reinterpreted by renowned Spanish artists such as Jacinto de Manuel, Borja Évora, María Bisbal Pardo, FOD and Sonia Navarro.
These professionals have elaborated their own elements of Guernica from different disciplines such as painting, sculpture, music, poetry or the performing arts. The reinterpretations have appeared today "refugees" in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Itsas Museoa-Museo Marítimo in Bilbao, the Civican in Pamplona, the Cajasol Foundation in Seville and the Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània in Valencia.
On the other hand, refugee men and women from different countries, united by their passion for art, have also been present in these cities, participating with their own interpretation of #GuernicaRefugiado: Yousef Al Dubai, writer and poet from Yemen; Laura Solano, painter of Colombian origin; Monaf Andiwi, painter from Syria; Oksana Yeromenko, Ukrainian painter; Tateh Lehbib, architect of Sahrawi origin, Irina Kolesnikova, Ukrainian painter and Jawad Saberi, rapper from Afghanistan.
From the inspiration to the selection of materials for each work, there is already a declaration of intent. Multidisciplinary artist Jacinto de Manuel, chose ceramics for his creation 'Se oía clamar al cielo'. "Something ancestral, something earthly, something that has always accompanied human beings, just like wars, banishments and injustices" commented Jacinto de Manuel. "Ceramic is a strong but fragile material at the same time; warm when it is created and cold when it is finished," he added.
For his part, FOD (Francisco Olivares Díaz), many of whose works explore the relationships between construction, deconstruction and destruction, chose iron as a material that harbors a character of armor or shelter. Guernica shows a house on fire and a woman calling for help from the window. His work entitled 'Habitable Space' is a shell where to take shelter and "is the representation of shelter as an abstract idea that appeals to protection from danger and, consequently, a place of calm where alerts are relaxed," said FOD.
The composer Borja Muñoz Évora has entitled his work for piano 'El Fragmento Desterrado', based on small fragments that throughout his life he has been composing, but that never saw the light. "The moment of these compositions has arrived; it is a piece based in turn on several of them, full of feelings that I did not know where to place them, they did not find their place, they did not fit, but always with the hope that someday somewhere, the exact moment would appear where everything would make sense" explained Muñoz Évora highlighting the need for rootedness and sense of belonging of the refugees.
The different states of mind of the refugee and the hope and light conveyed by Muñoz Évora's composition are also reflected in the creation of visual artist María Bisbal Pardo: 'Portrait of Samira, Syrian refugee, and her two sons, Abdoul and Taim'. Maria personally met Samira and her sons who shared with her their experience of exile. The work is based on the Guernica scene depicting a screaming mother holding in her arms her son lying lifeless, but including a different ending: what would have happened if that woman and her son had managed to get to safety before the bombing? "I like to delve into the identity of each person and their circumstances. My pictorial portrait is that of a real person, with her own story, which is why I have included her two children even though that is not exactly how Picasso does it in Guernica."
For her part, Sonia Navarro, who specializes in textile art and whose work has always been related to the impossibility of movement, has titled her work 'Candela'. With it and using sewn PVC collage, she has reinterpreted the Guernica light bulb that at the time was identified with scientific advancement and social progress. "In this ¨ÇÇobra I wanted to represent the light that refugees have when they reach a safe place" explains Navarro.
Along with them, several refugee artists in Spain from countries as diverse as Yemen, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Burkina Faso or Colombia have participated by creating their #GuernicaRefugiado from their own personal, cultural perspective and experience of exile. For many refugees, expressing ideas or denouncing human rights violations through their art is a reason for persecution.
Among the participants at the Círculo de Bellas Artes were Monaf Andiwi, a young painter from Syria, and the Yemeni poet and novelist Yousef Al Dubai, who read his poem "A Journey in Search of Peace". Refugees from Syria, Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Mali and other countries also participated in the preparation of the performance by actors from Compañía Infinito and Maletas de Cartón, to the chords of a musical piece by Mauri Corretjé. Inspired by a participatory dynamic with refugees and actors that began by visiting the Guernica in the Reina Sofia Museum and sharing the experience, they elaborated a performance inspired by the expression of feelings and experiences of exile under the direction of Guadalupe Marcote: "we have let the heart speak and represent together a Guernica with a happy ending, where welcome and solidarity offer protection and alleviate the suffering of its characters".
The journalist Carlos del Amor, who has elaborated several reports on RTVE about Picasso, explained that Guernica was refuged outside Spain until 1981 and how Picasso acted as a mentor to refugee artists.
Sophie Muller, UNHCR representative in Spain, provided the main data of the Global Trends Report highlighting that the current number of forcibly displaced people amounted to 110 million people, an increase of 21 million compared to the end of 2021. "It is essential to highlight that 41% of them are children, a particularly vulnerable group, to whom we give priority attention because of the protection risks they face" said Muller.
The Spanish actress and UNHCR supporter Elena Anaya, commented "When I visited the refugee camps in Ethiopia with Fernando Leon 10 years ago there were 45 million refugees and displaced people in the world... there I could see the enormous needs of the population and also the impressive work done by the UNHCR teams. But what I could never imagine is that ten years later, that figure would have more than doubled. And, as I have been collaborating with UNHCR for 10 years, I do not want to stop doing my bit and remind all we need urgently many more hands and a lot of cooperation.
Full event by streaming here.