Monday, February 18, 2013

Anti-Americana: Picasso's "Other" Massacre Memorial

Pablo Picasso's "Massacre in Korea," 1951
Mention Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in the context of political art and everybody thinks of "Guernica," right? His brilliant, massive canvas memorializing the bombing of the civilians of Guernica during the Spanish civil war by Nationalist forces is justifiably famous. Its haunting, angularly abstract imagery depicts the cruel murderous chaotic intensity of a bombed village in ways that are immediately affecting and unforgettable. "Guernica" is a painting that is rightfully taught to students (at least it was when I was in school), and rightfully holds a central position in the annals of 20th-century political art.

Turns out there is another work by Picasso that is not so widely taught or recognized, hanging in the Picasso museum in Paris. It's called "Massacre in Korea," dates from 1951, and depicts the massacre of Korean civilians at Sinchon by American forces early in what is misleadingly called in the United States "the Korean War."

I confess to having seen photographs of this painting before, but never questioned its subject matter until I read its title. I suspect that's no accident. Although it's acknowledged that Picasso was a leftist for much of his life, it's obvious that Picasso's truth-telling about the uncomfortable comparison between the murderous forces of Spanish fascism and US imperialism is anathema to popular art critics. How coldly hypocritical that this painting brilliantly depicting the murder of civilians by a robotized, dehumanized military machine would be quietly ignored because it runs counter to the official myths about what US imperialism was up to in Korea.

I've written repeatedly that North Korea's government is hardly the model of an egalitarian, forward-thinking socialist society. But whenever you hear the DPRK demonized on American TV, or read some fearful screed about the threat posed by the North Korean nuclear program, remember this painting. Remember who did what to whom. Guernica, Sinchon: Exactly the same things. Don't be fooled by the whining of bullies.


  1. You know a LOT more about history than I do. I was too busy getting high during my "studying" years. But since I turned 40, I've been trying to absorb the world's history. This is something I knew nothing about. The painting is so powerful! (And by the way, so was the poem about Chavez; forgot to mention it in the post above). Maybe I should come here more often. I might learn a thing or two. Thanks for the post.

  2. It is a great painting right? I first saw it on the cover of an album by jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard called "Sing Me a Song of Songmy" cut with experimental electronic musician Ilhan Mamaroglu....that was decades ago. Even then I had no idea what the painting was really about.

    Hey thanks for stopping by and all your comments!