March 19, 2018 § 2 Comments
This blog post was first published on the Overtone Productions website on March 2nd.
My journey to Catalonia with Overtone Productions for Radio 4’s The Art of Now has honestly been the trip of a lifetime. I set out with some trepidation (for the first time) to trace (in reverse) my father’s exile journey from Barcelona to England at the fall of Spain to the Franco dictatorship in 1939.
But I’m coming home with a deep sense of reconnection, and new insights into the profound value of a creative practice in confronting a most painful history, and I’ve been able to shine new light through some of the darkness.
Having carefully planned my artistic journey through the sites of two infamous French concentration camps of the period (Le Barcarès and Argelès-sur-Mer) with a stop-off at the Museu Memorial de l’Exili (La Jonquera) to make a personal donation to the archives, I was, nonetheless, anxious that my work could be met with hostility in some quarters.
The Catalan independence referendum of October 1st 2017 appeared to have heightened tensions in the region. As friends and contacts on the ground back then began to send me news and impressions (including video footage of police violence at the ballot box) I feared these horrifying scenes held echos of the Franco dictatorship, and I felt a new uncertainty. Since 2013 I have been creating work about the Spanish Civil War but I have never had the opportunity to show my work in Spain before. Whether I could do so now became a burning question.
Returning with the programme also involved breaking a family taboo, and a history of silencing through fear and trauma. Aspects of what followed feel a little dreamlike, bordering on the remarkable. I can’t wait to share some of my encounters in the broadcast.
I learned that the memory of Civil War in Catalonia was never truly erased (because ‘the people’ remembered), and that there has indeed been a proud history of protest and resistance in the region. The somewhat infamous policy of ‘official amnesia’ has not been swallowed by the populace necessarily – though tensions about it remain, especially where Francoism lives on.
But to my delight, I was met with an overwhelming welcome for my project at each stage of the journey, including an invitation to exhibit and talk about my work from Queralt Solé at the history faculty in Barcelona University, which has opened up the possibility of a whole new creative dialogue.
Making this programme has enabled me to find my voice in Catalonia, and to hear the multiple voices of all those wonderful friends old and new I met along the way.
My special thanks go to the Alsina family in Barcelona whose long and profound friendship to my family (dating from before the Civil War to the present day) inspires and sustains me. My deep gratitude also to Helena Buffery for her steadfast support and guidance on vital aspects of this project.
As I journey home I’m already longing to return once more to Catalonia.
The Art of Now: A Return to Catalonia is on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm on 19th March 2018.
An Overtone Production by Anna Scott-Brown.
October 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
This is quite a specialised blog post. I’ve been excited to find a slide show presentation from 2014 on a memory stick (autistically I burrow backwards and rely often on chance encounters with the past – the trick is to leave a trail…)
Like Hansel and Gretel before me I left some breadcrumbs, but still I’m rather awestruck that I could have missed working my way back to this somewhat seminal moment in the evolution of a project called The Museum for Object Research.
It’s a singular slide show. Many of the references will be obscure. It relates to my father’s two earliest plays – one unpublished and the other published in the Castilian language in small number and now out of print. Many of the references would be known only to the conference delegates of 2014 (familiar with the history of Spanish exile). Other references perhaps only I, or a handful of other people would understand. This doesn’t really matter. It’s the conceptual framework for my object work that matters – this is the exciting nature of my find!
October 2, 2017 § 7 Comments
I am not Catalan but I feel the recent events in Spain very deeply. I am an Anglo-British daughter of a Spanish Republican exile born in Madrid. My grandfather was from Galicia and my grandmother from Southern Spain, but they returned from their exile in France in 1941 to live in Barcelona. This place was my home from home as I grew up. Barcelona was my long Summers’ idyl, the city of all my high days and holidays, and my absolute love.
I have written often in my art blog about the long erasure of the Spanish exiles from the history books of Spain, and how my father and my grandparents never spoke of their internment in the French camps of Argelès sur Mer and Barcarès. I didn’t know or question why I lived in two places, or why my grandmother wept so bitterly in her kitchen each time we returned to England.
This is what violent political repression does – it silences you. Not just in the streets with batons. No. The erasure of memory and the taping of tongues creeps deeply into the everyday fabric of our lives. In many ways the invisible brutality of a dictatorship is at the heart of my recent cycle of paintings called simply, Buenos Días Dictador.
The dictator is everywhere and nowhere. The dictator follows you wherever you go.
The Catalan question itself is too complex for me to write about. I am an artist, not a historian or political analyst. But I know about living with exile. I know about suppression. And I know what’s more that these wounds run so deep in Spain that even 81 years on from the start of that Civil War it is hard to talk about Spain. Mine is a postmemory experience. My contact with the history is indirect, but my fear is present and real.
I have changed my social media settings to share this blog post.
The Catalan question can be hard to grasp, but you can recognise state suppression when you see it. All the hallmarks are there – and it’s impossible to argue with the statement by Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau. A line has been crossed and Rajoy is not fit to serve. Like so many bullies before him he is a coward, one who has set armed police against an unarmed citizenry.
There have been many opportunities to negotiate, which is what democracies are made for. Democracy is talking. Democracy can never be throwing citizens around like rag dolls, breaking their fingers, kicking and batting them with truncheons. Someone has died I believe, and more than 800 injured.
Most sickeningly there have been statements by Rajoy and his deputy claiming a proportionate response. But, no. This is not ‘normal’ or right.
With my art practice I witness. It’s all I can do.
June 15, 2017 § Leave a comment
¡Buenos Días Dictador!
Eight new postmemory paintings by Sonia Boué
Sonia Boué is an Anglo-Spanish multiform artist. Her practice is concerned with a legacy of exile, leading to a growing body of work which relates to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
In 2015 she was recognised by researchers at Tate Britain as a singular voice responding to this history within a British context. Subsequently Sonia featured in a film made by Tate Britain entitled, Felicia Browne: Unofficial War Artist, and in 2016 she received an Arts Council grant for Through An Artist’s Eye, a collaborative project about the life and work of Felicia Browne (who was the only British female combatant and the first British volunteer to die in action in the Civil War).
“Since 2013, my work has centred on a buried family history relating to the Spanish Civil War.
My childhood and adolescence spanned the final decade and half of the Franco dictatorship, yet the Civil War was never mentioned. This history was silenced for almost 40 years, and subject to a “pact of forgetting” when democracy was negotiated in Spain, following Franco’s death in 1975.
Unbeknownst to me Spain had been navigating an open wound.
My father and my grandparents had been involuntarily separated in 1939, and my father remained exiled in England until his death in 1989.
My practice is now concerned with this inherited memory and the need to confront this history through my work.”
About Buenos Días Dictador
Sonia Boué has created a series of new works about growing up with the invisible shadow of dictatorship. In them she explores the the duality of her childhood, drawing on an immersive painting practice. Through it (and the other branches of her multiform work) Sonia seeks to recover aspects of historic memory (memoria histórica), previously erased by political suppression.
With Buenos Días Dictador, Boué’s previous focus on the narrative histories of the Retirada (Republican retreat from Spain), and British involvement in the Civil War, has shifted to her own memory sites – the return journeys to Spain from England in the 1960s and 1970s.
Her painted responses are conjured scenes (dreamscapes) in which collaged figures plot an upbringing spent shuttling between Birmingham and Barcelona to visit her grandparents. Through these works she examines the fabric of daily life anew.
“The dictator was everywhere, silently and invisibly setting the preconditions of our lives.”
The spirit of these works is nostalgic yet confrontational, employing a juxtaposition of painted and collaged elements as a means of articulating the unspoken. Buenos Días Dictador, forms a visual essay which tweaks at the invisibility cloak of Franco’s rule to ask a serious question; how can we live the life domestic in the face of violent rupture, exile and dictatorship?
In these enigmatic new works the dictator is everywhere and yet nowhere to be seen. Cut-out figures from the period (borrowed from sewing pattern illustrations) are transplanted to imprecise geographical locations. Buenos Días Dictador, is a series of haunting dreamscapes conjuring a surreal and dissonant atmosphere.
Please share with colleagues and organisations where the visual arts, and subjects of Spanish Civil War, postmemory, displacement, and exile are of interest.
Contact Sonia for artist talks, conference papers and performances.
These works are also available for exhibition (8/ 50 x60 cms mixed media on linen).
August 12, 2016 § 8 Comments
Photography Stu Allsop: At RE:collections at the North Wall Gallery, Oxford.
An interesting article appeared in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, featuring my good friend and fellow autistic artist Jon Adams.
I like this particular quotation from the piece,
“Adams says it’s impossible for his autism not to affect his work. “It’s not separate so it must inform every bit of the work I do, even at an unconscious level. I make work touching sound, finding patterns and observations from my life all woven together as one.” He feels it may even give him an advantage: “It’s both my downfall and my creative edge,” he says.”
I’m chuckling though.
“…may even give him an advantage…”
Are you kidding?
While not wishing to indulge in trumpet blowing, I have to say that autism is of course advantageous in the making of art. No question.
Jon and I have talked about this on several occasions and conclude that art making has emerged in our lives as an inner compulsion – we live and breathe it – this is what drives us to create to our best abilities. Hyper-focus, perfectionism, task completion and originality (by default we see things differently), are my four (not so) secret weapons.
This doesn’t make me Rain Woman!
AND there is a downside. In the making autism is an advantage, but it is in the professional development and dissemination of our work that we often suffer.
Professional structures are socially driven and thus biased against autistics.
It’s a criminal mismatch when you think about it.
All that creative talent and very little scope for opportunity.
What a waste.
April 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
I have a new piece of work. I have a new metaphor. I have a new dance with stigma.
Thoughts swirl. Light on shadow, and shadow on light.
I have courage and I am scared. I have privilege and choice. New work takes time to absorb. I am almost six weeks into knowing that I am autistic – this too is a process of assimilation.
This short video – featuring a new work in my studio (for a group show) brought me to another level of realisation. The concept for this work – one of uncertain weather – is a metaphor for so many aspects of my life as an autistic woman.
I am impatient. I choke on the hard edges of stigma and the truth of it won’t go down.
The weather is uncertain, dictating all my experience of the sensory world. Uncertain weather is a daily encounter with both climate and social spaces.
My piece began as an exploration of exile but I find it works for autism too. You can read more about this connection in my work here.
January 4, 2016 § 3 Comments
Objects found today which speak…With all the forms I use as an artist I sometimes forget that the principle source of my inspiration is object work. No matter what I do it all springs from the objects around me and, of course, the ghosts of the past echoing through them.
Today was an important reminder. For the first time in a while I found myself with the opportunity to browse in a charity shop. I have a big submission to write and its skeleton (a sketchy draft) lies buried under a pile of papers – I know what I must write but I’m still feeling my way to nailing it down. Something stops me from committing to the format. My work doesn’t really fit into an online form but I’ll have to squeeze it into shape somehow.
The charity shop took me one step further. Towards the end of a reasonably pleasant rummage (no vintage suitcases alack!) I happened on a basket of scarves on the counter. I usually like to run my hands through them for silk. I rarely buy but sometimes the right one fishes up. Today it did – though at first I was ready to walk away despite it’s powerful call.
It said Abuela (grandma) – the woman responsible for my entire project and the deepest font of all my inspirations. I picked it up and admired it and immediately considered it for the performance I’m working on. Sometimes an object is the cornerstone of a piece providing a way in and anchoring it – making it tangible and real rather than a mere figment of my imagination. Only the other night I realised I would have to call on Abuela for my performance idea. Now here she was!
Yet I put it back. I turned away. A sensible voice told me that I collect too much stuff, that I’ll forget the scarf, that if I even get the gig I will have moved on by then and I won’t need this scarf despite the powerful jolt of recognition it’s bold colours and flowing florals bring.
But Abuela calls again. She’s in the room now, standing next to me urging me to turn back and so I do. I’ll take the scarf I say, and suddenly notice a small leather-bound dictionary nestling on the counter behind the basket. It hasn’t yet been placed out in the store. Spanish-English English -Spanish. My two tongues.
As the woman takes the scarf and wraps it in a paper bag I reach for the dictionary. Inside a dedication, with love and best wishes from Mummy Xmas 1954.
It couldn’t be more perfect an object – reeking of the times (my father’s fertile playwriting years), of family bonds, of bilingual bi-cultural lives, of journey back and forth. Reeking even of my mother’s own hand and her endless dedications to us over the years. It reeks of my father, his library, his life’s work. It reeks of grandma and grandpa and every single object in their flat in Barcelona, every detail of their clothing, their routines, their foibles. Their enveloping love.
From this tiny book you can learn that exile is destierro. There is no mention however of homesickness – añoranza.
Abuela’s scarf was right to pull me back. She knew I needed this book for my performance. She just knew.