Guernica by Pablo Picasso: Painting and Meditation

June 5, 2020  • Executive Leadership Seminars Department

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Guernica, Pablo Picasso


One of the most famous paintings of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso’s 1937 Guernica is the depiction of the mayhem and suffering of war. Amid a backdrop reminiscent of newsprint, Picasso emotes the pain of loss and the excruciating fear experienced in conflict. A horse and a bull can be found among the chaos, representing not only our primal, animalistic response to war, but also the deep dehumanization that occurred at the hands of the Nazis. Through an open window, civilians attempt to illuminate the pain of others. From above, the invisible hand of God turns on a light – forcing the world to witness the reality of injustice. 

I’ve been lucky enough to see this work in person almost a dozen times – and each time have felt compelled to reflect on my own role as a witness to the suffering of others. When the light has illuminated oppression and violence it feels impossible to turn away. And yet, despite seeing footage and hearing stories, it can be easy to indulge in escapism and return to normal life. As we make sense of the world around us, how can we hold a candle to give voice and representation to those who are suffering? How can we empathize with the very real lives behind the numbers printed in our daily newspaper? How can we ensure the light stays on – both within us, and in the world?

Brianna Curran, Washington, DC 

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