Monday, 7 June 2010

Pivo: resources - homeland

The French town of Collioure is renowned for attracting artists. Matisse, Dali and Picasso spent time there, and it is now a place where people go to buy work by living painters and sculptors. But I was interested in examining another part of Collioure's history in my street art. 

Twenty-eight kilometres from the Spanish border, Collioure is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, a place with a strong Catalan identity. I don't think I saw a single French flag anywhere - instead the yellow and red of the Catalan flag dominated every available mast.

Collioure was one of many French towns that refugees from what was soon to be Franco's Spain fled to during the civil war in the late 1930s.

The refugees and escaping Republican fighters from Barcelona assumed that they would arrive in Catalan France to a friendly or even a hero's welcome. They were wrong.

The men were separated from the women and children and all were put into internment camps. These were very makeshift with few to no facilities and people became malnourished and died of preventable diseases like cholera.

One camp was set up in the ancient templar fortress in Collioure, today a major tourist attraction. It was used to hold what the French government considered the more dangerous refugees - male Republican officers and representatives of the International Brigades. Another camp in a nearby town
held most of survivors who belonged to the anarchist Durruti Column.

The male refugees were given very limited options if they wanted to stay in France - basically join the army, the Foreign Legion or work in agriculture. Only when he agreed to one of these was his family allowed to stay in France.

Obviously for many Republicans, male and female, returning to Franco's Spain would mean imprisonment or very likely death. But joining the French Foreign Legion, with its associations with Spain's Francoist Legion, was politically unthinkable.

When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, there were still thousands of refugees living in the internment camps who ended up dying in them. Of those Republicans who somehow negotiated their freedom, many fought and died as part of the French resistance movement.

The photograph that this painting is based on was a propaganda piece printed in French newspapers to demonstrate how well the refugees were being treated by the French authorities.

When we went back the next day to take photographs, a local woman approached us and asked if we knew who had made the art. We said we didn't know but she seemed appreciative. I asked her about the house, assuming it was abandoned as the back garden was boarded up and it was all overgrown.

She explained that the house belonged to a 95-year-old woman who refused to maintain it. I instantly thought about how appropriate it was that I put this on the wall of someone who was alive and could probably remember a darker history in her quaint little town where not maintaining your garden is now all it takes to make people feel aggrieved.

Pasted up near the intersection of Rue Jules Ferry and Rue Militaire in Collioure, France.

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