Wednesday, 5 May 2010

First Impressions: Antifascistas: British and Irish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

‘Antifascistas’ opened today, May 5th, at the 12 Star Gallery in the European Commission’s offices in Westminster. Our Picture Editor, Sheila Corr, attended the official opening yesterday evening. She shares her first impressions of this exhibition on the British and Irish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.

By Sheila Corr,

The Spanish Civil War is now generally seen as the prelude to World War II in Europe’s 20th century fight against fascism. ‘Antifascistas’ puts the conflict firmly in that position.

Between 1936 and 1938, 2,500 British and Irish men and women went to Spain in an astonishing show of international solidarity to defend democracy, and this is their story. It is told on 15 display boards rather than as a three-dimensional exhibition of photographs, posters and banners, though they are all represented here, together with many personal and moving tales of heroism. Much of the visual material reproduced is from the Marx Memorial Library to whom the International Brigade Association donated their archive back in 1975, and where I have been fortunate enough to look through photograph albums and other memorabilia, sitting under the British Battalion banner. This is a fitting home as most of the volunteers in the 15th International Brigade were members of the Communist Party, and many had shown their colours confronting Mosley and his Blackshirts at Cable Street in October 1936.

Picasso’s famous painting in response to the bombing of Guernica was on display in Paris during 1937, where it was seen by volunteers heading to Spain. English artists and writers such as W.H.Auden and Laurie Lee recorded their own experiences, though some, such as Virginia Woolf’s nephew Julian Bell, died in the process.

Altogether 500 British and Irish died in Spain, but others returned to continue the fight, including Tom Wintringham who was the driving force behind the Home Guard, and Jack Jones who became an important Trade Union leader. Last year, in acknowledgement of their enduring debt, Spain gave citizenship to the remaining veterans.

‘Antifascistas’ is an intelligent, informative exhibition which is well worth catching on its forthcoming tour of Britain. It is at the 12 Star Gallery, Storey’s Gate until 14th May, and from 22nd at Newcastle City Library.

A well illustrated book of the same name accompanies the exhibition.

Antifascistas: British and Irish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
May 5th – 14th

8 Storey's Gate
London SW1P 3AT

- The British Battalion banner
- British volunteers returning to the front following convalescence at Benicasim (Marx Memorial Library)


paddy wagon said...

Eagerly awaited in Manchester.

Unknown said...

It will be in the People's History Museum in Manchester from 5-31 August.

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