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EL ESPECTADOR

That Awful Timelessness Of Picasso's Guernica

Sadly, the wall-sized master work says as much about the world's current horrors as it did about the first-ever air raid on civilians 80 years ago.

Visitors walking past Guernica
Visitors walking past Guernica
Aura Lucía Mera

MADRID — Mercy and Terror. That is the title of an exhibition in Madrid's Reina Sofía museum exhibit that depicts Pablo Picasso's artistic progression toward Guernica, his pitiless portrayal of the cruelty of war.

In stylistic terms, it is a journey that may have begun in 1925, 11 years before the start of the Spanish Civil War, which led to the bombing of Guernica, in the Basque Country, by German forces aligned with army rebels against the Spanish Republic.

Picasso's monumental painting, perhaps his most famous work, reuses and magnifies the pained expressions of earlier figures, already distorted within a phantasmagoric pictorial discourse. It was also a premonition of the horrors soon to overwhelm the European continent under Hitler.

When the artist was invited to take part in the Spanish Pavilion in Paris in 1937, he had never before broached overtly political subjects. But his blue period, which conveyed peace and serenity, had long ended, and he was moving beyond his cubist breakthrough. His sketches, paintings and drawings were beginning to speak of tragedies, pain and tears. For Picasso, women had become "suffering machines' and happiness "had never existed."

Picasso concentrated this pain into his merciless depiction of the bombing of a small town. He used shades of grey to depict human (and animal) slaughter, sobbing and the suffering of the innocent. This was the picture he displayed in Paris, perhaps without imagining it would later become a universal symbol of the cruel insanity of war.

Very little on this front has changed since Guernica's creation. The world is equally inhumane: missiles, hunger, terrorism. Blood and more blood. The nuclear threat that persists, child rape and human trafficking, closed borders and oceans turned into liquid graveyards. The shrieking that emanates from the master work still pierces our contemporary ears, in spite of our resolute deafness and indifference to "other people's' tragedies, and the overwhelming sway money, power and ambition hold over our lives.

Reading the news from anywhere now is a veritable trauma: a polluted planet, a heartless world, an insatiable and universal desire to destroy. An unfettered rage seems to have been let loose. It has unhinged the structure of our most elementary values and is leading people toward destruction. There are no winners in sight without a restoration of a sense of pity, forgiveness and love in ourselves.


The new show on display provides renewed impact. It not only reminds us of the past but also reflects our present. And unless we recover a measure of compassion, it may also presage an even more terrible future. Guernica is the inimitable representation of moral duty staring us in the face.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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