The Spanish civil war and British artists


This video is called Pablo Picasso – Guernica (1937).

By Christine Lindey in Britain:

Exhibition Review: Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish civil war

Tuesday 25th November 2014

CHRISTINE LINDEY recommends an exhibition of art inspired by the Spanish civil war

THE momentous interwar years between 1918 and 1939 galvanised British artists into political commitment. Inspired by the Bolshevik revolution, and appalled by the rise of fascism and the deprivation caused by the great depression, many turned to the left. Defence of the Spanish republic against the 1936 fascist insurrection united the anti-fascist peace movement.

This exhibition about British artists’ responses to the Spanish civil war highlights wider 1930s political and aesthetic debates. Art historian Roger Fry’s dominant ideology of “art for art’s sake” was contested by calls for politically engaged art by socialist and communist artists.

While working as an illustrator in the USSR in the early 1930s Cliff Rowe was impressed by its cultural policies. On returning home he founded the Artists International in 1933. It called for “the international unity of artists against imperialist war on the Soviet Union, fascism and colonial oppression” and its purpose was to spread this message through posters, banners, illustrations, exhibitions, meetings and lectures.

The following year it was equipped with a politically milder slogan and renamed the Artists International Association (AIA). Its membership grew rapidly and in 1936-9 it became the main focus for artists’ defence of Spain by raising public consciousness and funds.

Some artists argued for direct action and Felicia Browne, Julian Bell and Clive Branson fought in the International Brigade. Only Branson survived.

Felicia Browne, self-portrait

Browne, at the age of 32, was the first British volunteer killed in battle and in her self-portrait she returns our gaze squarely as a woman belligerently defiant of social convention.

She became a posthumous communist hero as commemorative exhibitions and publications of her uncompromisingly decisive drawings of Spanish militiamen and women raised money for Spain.

Other artists argued that creating propaganda was more useful and several rejected easel painting in favour of public arts as more effective tools of socio-political change.

The exhibition includes the AIA’s modernist banner for the British battalion of the International Brigade created by James Lucas, Phyllis Ladyman and Betty Rea, James Boswell’s illustrations for Left Review and Felicity Ashbee’s posters. The latter’s emotive portrayals of desperate war victims combine accessible figurative drawing with expressionist exaggeration such as enlarged pleading eyes and skeletal hands. The London County Council provided 22 large hoardings which AIA artists painted in public, so raising media and public awareness for Aid for Spain as they worked.

Other artists conveyed their beliefs through traditional means. Henry Rayner’s powerful print There is No Shelter chillingly reveals the mercilessness of aerial bombing. Of the several figures huddling for safety under a giant umbrella, the one holding it up turns out to be death personified as a skeleton.

Branson’s socialist-realist paintings stemmed from his communist desire to reach a wide audience. His Demonstration in Battersea (1939) celebrates collective action as demonstrators set off with communist and republican flags and banners amid the working-class district’s terrace housing, gasworks and factories.

Some British surrealists also opposed fascism and contributed imaginative masks and costumes to the 1938 May Day procession. Finding and exhibiting two of these props is a real scoop. Yet the meanings of most of their works — such as Stanley Hayter’s — are so elliptical or ambiguous that it is not clear that they refer to Spain, nor indeed even to antimilitarism.

The enervated forms and distorted figures in his Paysage Anthropophage (1937) could equally refer to personal or psychological anguish or to conflicts between unspecified humans or animals. In the 1930, when academic art still dominated, their adherence to abstracted or imaginary motifs were largely incompressible to most people.

Picasso also used modernist distortions in his Guernica canvas of 1937 but the motifs, such as the distraught woman running while carrying her dead child, and the bull as symbol of Spain make the painting’s meaning clear. It toured Britain with related works to raise funds for Spanish Relief in 1938, when it made a massive impression on British artists.

That exhibition’s catalogue is on show, along with Picasso’s Crying Woman and his satirical print The Dream of Franco alongside British works influenced by Guernica, such as FE McWilliam’s Spanish Head, with its anguished gaping mouth and carnivorous teeth.

Also displayed is the recent recreating of Guernica as a large banner in Pallant House. It was stitched by a collective including political refugees, anti-fascists and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to express the continuing need to protest against war and political oppression.

Together with its catalogue, this informative and well-researched exhibition of art, documentation and rare memorabilia makes a valuable contribution to knowledge about 1930s British politically aware art.

It rather overemphasises surrealists and modernists but it refrains from taking the all-too-common patronising attitude to artists with communist and socialist convictions.

It will hopefully galvanise a new generation to create politically committed art.

Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish civil war runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until February 2015. Free. Details: www.pallant.org.uk

Many Dutch butterflies this November


This is a video of a geranium bronze butterfly in Spain.

Translated from the Dutch entomologists of the Vlinderstichting, Thursday 20 November 2014:

The continuing mild weather and lack of significant frost during the nights ensures that many butterflies are still there to see. Nearly 3,000 butterflies were reported until November 18, many more than normally for all of of November. On Monday, November 17th, as many as eight species of butterflies were reported, and last week the very rare geranium bronze.

Nearly sixty percent of these 3,000 butterflies were one species: red admiral.

Spanish military, war against Spanish people?


This video says about itself:

Spain and the Holocaust

9 October 2008

Maureen Tobin Stanley, associate professor of Spanish language, literature, and culture at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, spoke at Vanderbilt University Oct. 23 as part of the Holocaust Lecture Series.

Maureen Tobin Stanley has spent her career examining Spanish voices of resistance, exile and deportation. Though 10,000 to 15,000 Spaniards were imprisoned in Nazi camps with the implicit endorsement of Francisco Franco‘s regime, their experience in concentration camps has been largely suppressed. As part of contemporary Spain’s critical, literary, and current legislative drive to recover its democratic past and renounce Franco‘s totalitarianism, Stanley’s research seeks to demonstrate the cultural relevance of these frightening realities. Supporting contribution by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

By Vicky Short:

Spanish military prepares for domestic repression

20 November 2014

In response to the socially explosive conditions resulting from high unemployment, attacks on living standards and rising inequality, Spanish military units are being prepared for use in internal repression.

The Spanish digital daily, Público, recently revealed that around 200 soldiers from the Light Armoured Cavalry Regiment Lusitania No.8, based in Valencia, have been receiving special crowd control training, including the use of anti-riot equipment, by the military police.

One of the participants said that “they never explained what mission we needed this training for”. Another said, “People think that a lot of tension can be seen in the streets every day, that there is a lot of unrest … they tell us in the barracks that the National Police are overwhelmed, that it doesn’t have the means or the personnel.”

Sources at the barracks described the training as “strange and absolutely unprecedented,” but added, “We have to be prepared for everything, especially in these current times.”

“We do not remember the PM (military police) training soldiers before from other units to act as ‘anti-riot military police’ against civilians. … We believe that the military police are also doing this type of training in other barracks,” another said.

The sources reported that the training exercise became so violent and out of control, with several casualties, that it had to be stopped.

The Ministry of Defence sought to downplay the revelations, stating that training of the army in riot control was routine and had been going on for years. However, this attempt at reassuring the public was belied by further reports that about 50 soldiers had been interrogated for hours by officers demanding that they reveal the names of those who had made the revelations. At least one of the soldiers is facing expulsion from the army.

The training of army units in crowd control is based on the assumption that insurrectionary struggles are inevitable, because of the intolerable level of suffering the Spanish ruling class has imposed on the working class. The latest developments add to the series of counterinsurgency measures already adopted by the Popular Party (PP) government, including the purchase of new anti-riot equipment.

The new Citizens Security Law going through parliament and expected to be in force early next year will severely restrict the right to protest. Judges will be able to impose huge fines on protesters, particularly those outside Congress and other state institutions, and to fine anyone who distributes photographs of police brutality. The police will receive extra powers to enter and search property, demand identification papers and restrain those who refuse to produce them. The names and details of those penalised can be made public and if they are foreigners they can be deported.

Politicians from the main opposition Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) have been virtually silent about the Público reports, limiting themselves to putting down a question to the government asking for clarification. PSOE defence spokesman, Eduardo González, would not be drawn into any further comments other than stating, “What we need is to know more details and have some clear explanations”.

The historic role of the army in Spain, which in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War killed hundreds of thousands in a counterrevolutionary uprising led by General Francisco Franco, is well documented. The Spanish establishment is riddled with the heirs of the fascist regime that followed the Civil War. A few old surviving fascists even continued to hold the same positions in the armed bodies of the state.

Madrid is not alone. Throughout Europe the ruling class is once again preparing dictatorial forms of rule. In Greece, for example, the New Democracy/PASOK coalition government of Antonis Samaras, on three separate occasions, has placed striking workers under martial law and has repeatedly used police against strikers and has banned demonstrations.

In France, the unpopular Socialist Party government under President François Hollande launched a savage crackdown on protests sparked by the police murder of Rémi Fraisse, a 21-year-old environmental activist.

Big clerical sexual abuse scandal in Spain


This video is called Spain’s Stolen Babies – and the Catholic Church.

From AFP news agency, on Expatica.com:

Spanish court probes allegations group of priests abused man

17th November 2014

A Spanish court has launched a sexual abuse investigation after a man sent a complaint to the Vatican alleging a group of priests molested him as a boy, officials said Monday.

The alleged abuse happened in the southern Spanish city of Granada and prompted authorities to open a probe targeting 12 people, though it was not clear if all those under investigation are clergymen, a judicial source told AFP.

Pope Francis “forced the opening of an enquiry into abuse in this diocese”, according to religious news site ReligionDigital.com.

According to judicial sources, Criminal Court number four in Granada opened the investigation in the beginning of November.

The Archdiocese of Granada said it had suspended an undisclosed number of priests while it waits for the results of the court probe and has sent the conclusions of its own internal inquiry to the Vatican.

“As soon as it was reliably informed of the accusation made to the Holy See by a youth from Granada, of having suffered sexual abuse by a group of priests from the diocese, this Archdiocese has scrupulously followed the procedure for these cases,” it said in a statement.

Pope Francis has moved to crack down on priests who sexually abuse children, but critics say the Vatican is moving too slowly to decide the ultimate fate of these priests.

The Church is sensitive to charges, levied by both the United Nations and thousands of abuse victims, that, for years, it instinctively protected serial sex offenders within the clergy.

Church tribunals have resulted in the defrocking of nearly 850 priest for sex abuse in the last decade, during which time hundreds of millions have been paid to settle compensation claims by victims of abuse.

See also here.