Remembering in a Time of Lockdown

May 11, 2021
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In July last year a small group gathered—socially distanced—at the memorial to the International Brigades in London. As Jeremy Corbyn spoke of the “incredible sense of solidarity with people around the world” to a camera in a near-deserted Jubilee Gardens, I uploaded a short video as a personal act of remembrance on the International Brigade Memorial Trust’s Flickr page. Later I noticed, unable to attend the event, several other IBMT members had made similar posts on their Facebook pages: a posy of flowers in Republican colors from Jane Bernal in London; a poem by Edwin Rolfe from Nancy Wallach in New York; messages and images of past commemorations from Dublin and Sydney by Manus O’Riordan and Sylvia Martin; and on Twitter a message of support from Almudena Cros of our Spanish sister-organization AABI, “We are with you in spirit”. Later we were able to see the short ceremony and hear the speech online.

Contacting those who had posted up messages I asked if we could work together to put the words and images on the IBMT Flickr channel to remember the day. From these collaborations came the concept of an online exhibition made up of pages each with a photomontage—like panels in an exhibition. We didn’t realize then just how long the pandemic and its restrictions on movement and group meetings would last, and ten months on there are over forty pages and the exhibition is still growing. We called the project “REMEMBERING IN A TIME OF LOCKDOWN”, each photomontage with an “in-location” title – in-Sydney, in-Brussels, in-San Francisco – and each page a collaborative effort. Each photomontage is accompanied by explanatory text, messages, stories, pieces of history, often poetry and acknowledgments—on Flickr they are below each image just scroll down.

San Francisco: https://flic.kr/p/2kRrezs

Remembering in a Time of Lockdown—the link to the album:   https://flic.kr/s/aHsmPe6zz3

There are pages from events around the world: Belgium, Poland, Germany, Croatia and several pages from Spain. They come from sister organisations and from individuals. Recent pages include one from one of the Jarama hospitals “in-Tarancon” and one from a small town in England, telling the story of the British Commander Mike Wild, “in-Shireoaks”.

On 12th September last year I signed in, one of thousands, who followed ALBA’s live stream event and commemoration and was entranced by the succession of speakers and singers—stories and histories from the past;  messages and reports from today; readings and songs for all time; the historic Bay Area activism in San Francisco; and today “No More Deaths” … “No Más Muertes” … protecting the lives of Central and South American refugees trying to find safety in the United States.  In the short gaps between presentations, using our newfound messaging skills, we said hello to friends; “Hi Brenda.” (in Dublin), “Hi Nancy” (in New York) and “Hi Giles” (in Madrid). A “virtual gathering”  became a virtuous assembly—it was a model of its kind.

The “in-San Francisco” photomontage layers past, present and future reading from the top down. Above the horizon archive photos of American Brigaders are set in the sky amongst the palm trees of Embarcadero Plaza… creating a form of “colorization” … we remember the palm trees that lined the streets in Barcelona for the Brigaders’ final parade in November 1938. Then the memorial – designed by Ann Chamberlain and Walter Hood – with its fragments of text and image and its triggers to memory and reflection. On the Flickr image click the cursor and it turns into a magnifier and you can mover around the image in close-up and read the text and see the images on the panels. This year the plaza space was eerily empty but peopled here by a photograph of Lincoln Brigade veterans—Lincoln Brigade Fights On – beginning their march through the succeeding decades restating the values of the Brigaders while facing a succession of new crisis. All gone now, but their image still imprinted on the overlay of Isabel Allende’s challenge to the future, “Today, like 84 years ago in Spain, we need brave and idealistic young men and women like the volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade, willing to come forward in defense of the values and principles that sustain our civilization.”

People have remembered in many different ways: a raised fist sculpted in wood as a birthday present, memories of 1930s Manchester, a newly discovered gravestone, memorials found during a holiday in France, a memory in Stockholm of a visit to Belgium several years before, a short video about the new mural to refugees in Gernika—always refugees – and a poem from Middlesbrough. In Hull Jenny pauses at their new memorial when she is in town and brings a dust cloth with her to keep it clean. From the 2019 commemoration in London a photograph of a friend who has just died of Covid.

On the 23rd of August 1936 in Huesca ninety-five people were shot against the wall of the civic cemetery by fascist rebels. On the 23rd August 2020 a small, socially distanced group gathered at the civic cemetery and laid red carnations and wreaths – the words of Victor Pardo, “The duty of memory does not prescribe”, hanging in the noiseless air.

Sometimes events had to be postponed such as the unveiling of a new plaque in Hamburg. Other groups carried out socially distanced events like those in Cardiff in Wales and in Knagerhill Cemetery  and in North Lanarkshire in Scotland and at the Soviet memorial in London. In some places Covid rules were rethought, and time and space reset: In Kirkcaldy a booking schedule allowed all who wished to lay flowers through the day;  in Canada white roses were laid on memorials across the country on Remembrance Day. In these Facebook days the images and posts are flocked with ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ and little icons—red, yellow and purple hearts—“Gracias!”  “¡No Pasarán!”

Many of us in the International Brigades community are involved in setting up new memorials. In Perušić, Croatia, they fear that their memorial to anti-fascist fighters may be removed and dumped without respect or ceremony—we signed their petition of support. In Poland a group of young people wearing Covid masks took to the streets to stand against reactionary policies—their touchstone Republican flags and remembrance of the Polish Brigaders.

The ‘Remembering in a Time of Lockdown’ project will continue until the pandemic eases. It is no surprise that the pandemic did not hinder our desire to reflect on time past, on our commemorations today or on the importance of remembering the International Brigades and what they represented; “Madrid remains the conscience of our lives” wrote Edwin Rolfe. In a time of global pandemic and global warming our message of internationalism is increasingly, not less, relevant. It seems we may have gained in steadfastness of purpose and found new ways of sharing with each other. We may also have found new ways of reaching out to those beyond our International Brigades communities. La lucha continúa.

Marshall Mateer is the Film Coordinator of the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT). To discuss the project or contribute stories please contact: film@international-brigades.org.uk

Links:

San Francisco: https://flic.kr/p/2kRrezs

Remembering in a Time of Lockdown—the link to the album:   https://flic.kr/s/aHsmPe6zz3

 

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