13 May 2011
Massacre in Korea, Picasso (1951)
The Massacre in Korea, painted by Picasso in the year 1951, depicts a scene from the Korean War. After his famous piece, Guernica, Picasso focused his drawings on an anti-war message, criticizing governments for their actions. This painting is famous for its resemblance to Goya’s The Third of May 1808. The Massacre in Korea was a response to the 1950 Sinchon Massacre, when South Korean troops and American soldiers marched out to Sinchon, North Korea, and killed huge numbers of people presumed to be communist supporters, but also civilians (Park, Par 3). Though the details of this incident are still debated by the North and the South, the Sinchon Massacre is still one of the major events in Korean history.
This painting divides into two parts: left and right. The left side contains four women and children, and its overall tone is red. The ground they are standing on has a reddish color, symbolizing death, while the land on the right is green, much like healthy, beautiful grassland (Victor, Par 4). The Korean women are mourning the death of their people and children while the soldiers dressed like medieval knights, presumably American soldiers, point their weapons at the innocent civilians. Picasso shows the weakness of these civilians (mainly women and children) through their nakedness while the soldiers are dressed and armed (Victor, Par 3). The nakedness of the civilians shows their weakness in this situation and how powerless they are while witnessing their motherland crash and burn by the powerful opposition. Furthermore, these soldiers resemble medieval knights, symbolizing justice, chivalry for the country, and ultimately, resemble medieval knights fighting for their powerful lords. Picasso, however, questions whether their actions are truly justified, as innocent children run and women cry in disbelief.
This piece of art work directly relates to the questioning of war because through the mourning, distorted faces of North Korean women, Picasso questions the audience about the purpose of the Korean War. Both sides claim that the purpose of the Korean War was to bring justice to Korea—North and South combined. Then who was this action supposed to benefit? USSR, China, and North Koreans were fighting to bring the South into communism. Simultaneously, the United States and South Korea were fighting to protext themselves from communism invasion. Both sides wanted the extra piece of land for their government; how is this supposed to help the residents of the Korean peninsula? Residents of Sinchon had been murdered by their fellow countrymen just because they lived in the Northern side of the country. The redness of the land the women are standing on and the green color of the land under the soldiers’ feet show how green the red land used to be before it was soaked with the blood of the innocent people who had to die. The toddler playing on the ground shows how clueless children are of the situation they are in, yet they were killed due to the greediness of their government. The pointed guns imply that the people on the left side of the painting will be killed in any moment (Victor, Par 11-13). How can this act be justified?