In times of war, art has long been a means of protesting against suffering and also of remembering the dead. The twentieth century was marked by a number of civil wars that set neighbours and families against one another. The Spanish Civil War of 1936–9 had a particularly powerful impact in Europe and the wider Spanish-speaking world to which exiles fled.
Artists often focused on the plight of civilians. From Paris, Pablo Picasso chronicled the massacres of Basque civilians in works such as Weeping Woman 1937 which compresses the suffering of thousands into the representation of a single figure. By contrast, Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros turned to abstraction to express his despair at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
The process of decolonisation in the second half of the century was rarely peaceful and often marked by especial bitterness. Malangatana Ngwenya’s dense weave of images evokes his experience during the war of liberation from Portuguese rule in Mozambique. In the face of inhumanity, artists can bear witness and commemorate, bringing painful issues to the surface, both personally and publicly.
Curated by Matthew Gale.