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Author: Pablo Picasso
Dimensions: 110 cm × 210 cm
Type: Oil on plywood
Massacre in Korea is a 1951 painting by Pablo Picasso which is seen as a criticism of American intervention in the Korean War. It depicts the 1950 Sinchon Massacre, an act of mass killing carried out by North Koreans, South Koreans, and American forces in the town of Sinchon located in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. Although the actual cause of the murders in Sinchon is in question, Massacre in Korea appears to depict them as civilians being killed by anti-Communist forces. The art critic Kirsten Hoving Keen says that it is “inspired by reports of American atrocities” and considers it one of Picasso’s communist works. Picasso’s work is drawn from Francisco Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808, which shows Napoleon’s soldiers executing Spanish civilians under the orders of Joachim Murat.
As with Goya’s The Third of May 1808, the painting is marked by a bifurcated composition, divided into two distinct parts. To the left, a group of naked women and children are seen situated at the foot of a mass grave. A number of heavily armed “knights” stand to the right, also naked, but equipped with “gigantic limbs and hard muscles similar to those of prehistoric giants.” The firing squad is rigidly poised as in Goya. In Picasso’s representation, however, the group is manifestly helter-skelter – as was often apparent in his portrayals of armored soldiers in drawings and lithographs – which may be taken to indicate an attitude of mockery of the idiocy of war.
Their helmets are misshapen, and their weaponry is a mishmash amalgamation of the instruments of aggression from the medieval period to the modern era – not quite guns or lances, they perhaps most resemble candlesticks. What is more, none of them have penises. This representational feature is highlighted by the pregnant state of the women on the left side of the panel. Many viewers have interpreted that the soldiers, in their capacity as destroyers of life, have substituted guns for their penises, thereby castrating themselves and depriving the world of the next generation of human life.