Sonia Boué: Retreat/Retirada

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What Orwell means to me and my practice:

Like so many, I was introduced to George Orwell as a set text – Animal Farm – for O’level English. Then at university we read, 1984 alongside Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World, and Samuel Butler’s, Erehwon. 

Back then what I appreciated most about Orwell was his accessibility. Studying Art History (at Sussex University 1980-83) I quickly established a dislike for ‘artspeak’. As idealistic 18 year olds we burned at the social inequities we felt ‘pretentious jargon’ signified. ‘Artspeak’ was elitist!

 “Rule 5, Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent”.   George Orwell “Politics and the English Language” (1946)

I aspired to write my student essays jargon free. I took pride in writing in ‘plainspeak’, which at the time felt like a radical, political act. 

Much later Homage to Catalonia, became a key text, helping me to make sense of a traumatic family history in the Spanish Civil War. Political suppression (by the Franco regime) and the need to bury that trauma meant that my family never spoke of it. Growing up I hadn’t known that my father and grandparents fled for their lives from Fascist Spain in 1939, and that they were exiled to the now infamous concentration camps of France.

The family were separated and my father was exiled to England, while my grandparents were able to return to Spain. 

Inheriting my Spanish grandmother’s handbag in 2013 opened a cache of childhood  memories of my visits to my grandparents’ flat in Barcelona, and I began my Barcelona in a Bag project. The Spanish Civil War quickly became my principle subject. I believe there is a great emotional need to know where we come from, which can be heightened when the narrative is disrupted. You could say that the Spanish Civil War was my cradle. 

As I learned more about the shameful treatment of the Spanish exiles, I discovered that thousands of Spanish Republicans were later sent to Nazi concentration camps with the complicity of the Vichy regime. Suddenly overwhelmed by how close my family had been to annihilation – my grandparents escape a roundup to Mauthausen in 1940 – I took to my bed. Surely I had the flu’, I thought. I was shaking uncontrollably and I found it hard to breathe. 

From this moment I felt compelled to understand the material conditions they lived through and ploughed headlong into my research. 

Reading Homage to Catalonia proved vital to my understanding.  It was Robert Capa’s extraordinary photo reportage of the internment of exiles in Argelès sur Mer in March 1939, and Orwell’s brilliance in documenting the atmosphere of Barcelona and the material conditions of war brought which brought the solace of witness. What I most  hungered for in my early research was documentary evidence of a narrative that had been buried – while the Orwell experience was different from that of my father (who saw action as a very young reporter with the Republican army in 1938-9) Orwell’s vivid reportage was a hotline to this moment. 

Retreat – a video response: 

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The video Retreat, was made in 2015. When I learned of Eric Arthur Blair’s burial at the church of All Soul’s in Sutton Courtenay, I was astonished and intrigued. The great man, (aka George Orwell) was buried only 20 minutes away from my home in Oxford!

Unravelling Time, a group show curated by Les McMinn, became the perfect pretext to make the grave my subject. The call out to artists at my studios, at Magdalen Road, was to respond to the Abbey in the village – which was a stone’s throw from Orwell’s grave. David Astor had once owned the Abbey had been his close friend, and this was the reason Orwell was buried in Sutton Courtenay.

Retreat uses iPhone capture and basic iMovie software for editing. It documents my first encounter with the grave, which proved to need only the lightest of touches in terms of the edit. 

Immersing myself in the poetry of the place I took a series of simple shots. I found the peaceful seclusion of this simple grave (which is not obviously signposted unless you enter the church) deeply moving. Astonished to find such a public figure resting in peace so privately – as it were – this created an association with the history of the Abbey as a retreat. Retreat in Spanish is retirada – the term used for the Republican retreat from Fascist Spain in February of 1939. 

As this chain of allusion coalesced in my mind, I was also most struck by the two rose bushes whose growth at this moment was such that the gravestone appeared almost obscured. The roses fascinated me, and I wanted to capture the quiet drama of their towering over the gravestone and blocking the lettering from view. Allusions piled up. Retreat surfaced again – here as shelter (the roses providing a bower) and the battle for memory of the Civil War which continues to rage in Spain. 

I had found my title. 

Lingering by the site I began to think about Orwell’s possible view on such matters and turned my iPhone upwards to capture the trees and sky above the grave. 

As I edited my shots the concept for sound quickly emerged. Paul Robeson had been an important voice in the soundscape of my childhood but it was not until I began my Spanish Civil War research that I understood his significance for my father. A beacon of resistance, Robeson’s support for the  second Spanish Republic would surely have drawn him to this majestic voice. 

Robeson had taken on a new significance for me, and for this piece I wanted to find a track featuring him singing in Spanish. Encantadora is the perfect track in my view, and makes the video what it is – a deeply felt emotional tribute to Orwell’s engagement in the fight against Fascism in Spain.Retreat 10

As ever, I have woven my own personal history into my work and this piece reflects my deep and unending gratitude, not only to Orwell, but to all of the British volunteers who fought in Spain against the Fascist forces of General Francisco Franco. 


Brief Biography 

 Sonia Boué is a multiform artist who specialises in object work, painting, installation, video and performance in an ongoing post-memory project about the Spanish Civil War, called ‘Barcelona in a Bag 

She also develops and leads creative projects, such as the Arts Council funded ‘Through An Artist’s Eye‘. Recent works includes a film collaboration with Tate Britain about the British artist Felicia Browne. 

A painterly collaboration with Richard Hunt of the Shadowlight artist group was awarded the Shape Open 2017. 

Other recent work includes the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Art of Now: Return to Catalonia‘, with Overtone Productions 

Her new project is the Arts Council funded, Museum for Object Research, which includes a professional development initiative for autistic project leadership.

Roberto Cambi: Social Media as Prolefood


Art has a long-standing tradition of tackling political and social issues head-on.

  Most people tend to associate pop art with lightness, both visually and conceptually, and not with darkness. Bold colours, a strong sense of playfulness and easy messages – often brought to us by the advertising industry – generally are not what viewers would associate with introspection, melancholy and a darker vision of the world. Yet this side of pop art is out there for all to see.

  The choice of these three paintings – rather than his sculptures – is an attempt to show that beyond pop art’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s all teeth. And they can be sharp.

   Our current political and social climate is arguably the most divisive and challenging that anyone has experienced for a very long time.

The wide-held belief that going with the flow keeps us free from harm could not be further away from the truth. It simply doesn’t work like this.

  The complete loss of individualism running through George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four seems particularly relevant after events like the EU referendum in Britain and the American presidential election. The freedom of expression promised by social media platforms looks uncannily like a prison. That distortion and misrepresentation of our identities at an interpersonal level is investigated through these paintings.

THE BIRD CHARMER (oil painting on board, 35cm wide x 45 cm high)

It could easily be called the trappings of social media.

The nagging feeling of not being able to measure up against peers is often the starting point of an unhealthy relation with social media.

Lured by the doctored images of a society steeped in ‘selfies’, where conceit and deception is rewarded with followers and likes, users become trapped in the system.

The constant need for validation is just another facet of the debilitating world of narcissism. It triggers a steady erosion of self-worth, which is difficult to escape, together with a propensity to take increasingly greater risks.


THE GARDENER (oil painting on board, 80cm wide x 100cm high)

The same passion, enthusiasm and zeal that leads us to achieve our goals in life  can be every bit as destructive as it is gratifying. A strong drive can be a wonderful gift but if one is not careful, it takes over your life. There is a very thin line between passion and obsession. Perfectionism can easily be a source of motivation or a cause of frustration if we let the surrounding environment dictate our life.


THE PARACHUTIST (oil painting on board, 35cm wide x 45 cm high)

It’s a reflection on the meaning of risk-taking in social settings and its effects. Peer pressure plays a distorting role on what we do when so much of our life is lived through and governed by social media.