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Dwelling on traumatic events

Dwelling on traumatic events

When art meets science

Who: Marko Jelicic, forensic (neuro)psychologist

Painting: Guernica, Picasso (1937)

Target group: students of clinical psychology

“When you look at this, you get an idea of how it must be to be bombed. The mortal fear, the feeling of not being able to go anywhere, that is what you see.” And that is the reason why psychologist Marko Jelicic thinks that students of clinical psychology should look at Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting. “When you read about people with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example soldiers who fought in Iraq, you may think that it was terrible what these people went through, but then you read on. You don’t really take it on board and that is exactly what the painting forces you to do. In this case, we are looking at acts of war but people can also suffer trauma after a hold-up or rape. This gives you an idea of what those people must have gone through.”

The painting shows the bombing of Guernica, a city in the Basque region of Spain. “Before the Second World War, there was a civil war in Spain: Franco supporters against the republicans. Franco was friends with Hitler and Mussolini. He wanted to terrorise his opponents and a lot of republicans lived in the Basque Country. So he asked the German Luftwaffe to bomb Guernica. This was the first time that a city was ravaged like this. Later, of course, this happened much more often. Rotterdam for example, and now in Syria. Picasso was commissioned by the republicans to make the painting.”

The painting shows a lot of gruesome details: a mother with a dead child, a horse with a spear in its belly, chopped-off body parts. “And all this in typical Picasso style. You have to get into it yourself; you have to think about it. That is why it has a greater impact than a photograph, which is often taken afterwards. This painting takes you to the moment of the bombing.”

Jelicic thinks that to really appreciate it, Guernica should be admired in reality. “It is an enormous painting, 3.5 by 7.8 metres. In black, grey and white. It hangs in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, in a separate hall. I saw it five years ago. It is overwhelming. I already knew it from books, but when you see it as a picture of 10 by 20 centimetres, you think: good. But when you stand before the real thing, it is very impressive.”

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