Exhibition as Commemoration

While every war deserves commemoration, there must always be measures taken in order to do so tastefully and respectfully, while still offering proper recognition. One manner in which to commemorate a historical event is through public exhibitions.The Encarta World English Dictionary defines exhibition as “the displaying of something in public.” With such a broad definition, the term exhibition can be applied well beyond the traditional connotations associated with the word, beyond the traditional museum exhibition.

Through my Madrid-based research project, I would like to delve into the meaning, role and effectiveness of the exhibition as a vehicle through which to commemorate the Spanish Civil War. In commemorating an event so controversial and painful as the Spanish Civil War, the exhibition organizers must tread lightly so as to show respect while being historically accurate and providing education; curators must be careful in choosing a stance on the war, whether it is conservative, liberal, or neutral. Especially now, at the 70th anniversary of the war, there is a definite duty to provide some form of education on the war’s events or even recent events involving the Law of Historical Memory, in order to inform tourists, foreigners, younger generations and perhaps even some uninformed Spaniards, of the importance of this event in Spain’s history.

Another major factor is the decision of whether or not to use the exhibition in order to offer a sort of homage to the war’s victims and their families, which raises issues of privacy, censure, historical accuracy and sensitivity.

In my exploration of the museum exhibition, I plan to focus on two main categories: exhibitions based on iconic images of war, the canonical representations of the war and exhibitions based on lesser-known images and stories, with the purpose to educate and build awareness, the non-canonical. Perhaps the two most prolific and telling images of the Spanish Civil War are works of art: Picasso’s Guernica and Robert Capa’s famed photographic collection, including the iconic photo The Falling Soldier, all of which we will be viewing at the Reina Sofia Art Center of Madrid, in the company of our guide Madrid-based art historian and professor, Angel Llorente. The images depicted in Picasso and Capa’s works have come to be recognized as iconic images of war and the tragedies, which accompany it, and through their location, in a top tier art museum in Madrid, their influence on the public is inevitable. With this sort of exhibition, while visiting the Reina Sofia, I plan to observe the works and with the help of our tour guide investigate their roles as art, actual spaces of memory, and establish their roles in commemorating the war. Through contrasting the roles of the two types of museum exhibitions with my findings I plan to draw conclusions about the importance of both types, their interactions with each other and their effectiveness in the public realm.The visits to both exhibits will be extremely useful, as I plan to examine the way in which the works are displayed, the wall texts that accompany them and the manner in which the Spanish Civil War is presented.

Professor Cate-Arries has also planned a guided walking tour of the University City in War, guided by Antonio Morcillo Lopez, the president of GEFREMA a historical association that studies the vestiges of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid. While this is a tour of historically important sites in the University City of Madrid, it will serve as a public display of the war, thus effectively, an exhibition.  I will also have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Lopez and gain insight on his views as far as commemoration through exhibition and his association’s work with the commemoration of the war.

While in Madrid, I will also have the opportunity to speak with Elena Díaz of the  Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales (State Society of Cultural Commemorations). Ms. Deiaz will serve as a valuable resource, as I can ask her about her views on the subject, the role of cultural commemorations of the war in Madrid, and her association’s work with commemorative exhibitions.

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