Plato believed that it's only the dead who see the end of war. Some are fortunate enough for death frees them but some horrors that men witness are destined to stay forever. Highly disturbing and extremely visceral Goya: Chronicler of All Wars features the Spanish artist's etchings that form the Los Desastres de la Guerra or the Disasters of War series and even though separated by centuries these images man's contempt of his fellow hit as hard as images from present day war.
After the French plundered key Spanish locations during the Peninsular Wars, Goya and a few other artists were invited to witness the massacre and "paint the glories of the inhabitants". Unpublished till 35 years from his death, Goya's stark imagery is now seen as a protest against the violence he witnessed. Goya took almost a year before he started etching and viewing the macabre depiction it's clear why Goya never exhibited them during his lifetime.
The series is divided into episodes that centre on incidents from the war, its aftermath, the famine that hit Madrid in the 1811 and the disillusionment that ensued with the rejection of the Spanish Constitution by the monarchy. The severity of Goya's monochromatic strokes hardly leaves anything to be imagined. In fact the imagery is so raw the one finds it difficult to believe them. Goya bares the chaos of the battlefront; the shock of the soldiers and the turmoil in great detail and one segment of the exhibition highlights the details to show the artist's process.
Goya's brush shows an almost equal amount of dismay in the perpetrators as well as the victims. In the segment Las Victimas with bodies strewn across the streets, Goya represents the loss of identity amongst the death and even recreates classic Biblical icons of pain while drawing the burials; these images are ominous and leave you profoundly unsettled.
Disenchanted and dreary, Goya's strong dedication to show post-war life as it were comes across clearly in the segment where he uses animals to parade the rule of Ferdinand VIII.
It wouldn't be incorrect to call Goya a harbinger of photojournalism as contemporary photojournalists use the same level of commitment to reveal present day war. Brutal sounds emanating from the accompanying video installation; the darkness of the room with just enough light to reveal the savagery of war and its utter uselessness, as an exhibition Los Desastres de la Guerra is beautifully designed and presented.
Goya: Chronicler of All Wars. The Disasters and War Photography is on display till the 15th of October at the The Instituto Cervantes, Hanuman Road, Connaught Place (CP), New Delhi
I am a Delhi-based author who writes for Buzzintown.com, while I also wear the hat of a documentary film maker. To know more about paintings exhibitions Mumbai or paintings exhibitions Bangalore please visit Buzzintown.com