An ethical call resounded throughout the world when fascist forces repeatedly bombed civilians during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). The evolution of total war—where civilians become military targets—and the attempted “obliteration”1 of entire civilian populations in Spain presented a challenge to the concerned global citizen: how does one respond ethically to the advent of total war? In answer to this ethical dilemma, a transnational network of pacifists comprised of modernist artists, authors, thinkers, volunteers, and activists galvanized bold, highly dynamic concepts of pacifism through their art and actions. Many of them came together and created support and relief networks that aided the civilians and refugees on the ground in Spain. Artists, authors, and activists such as Virginia Woolf, Pablo Picasso, Muriel Rukeyser, Langston Hughes, and Quaker volunteer workers, produced paintings, poetry, prose, and actions that contained powerful testimonies—a Quaker term that signifies the lived actions that manifest inner beliefs—of peace.
The digital humanities projects featured in this exhibition show that through their art and literature, each of these artists constructed a fierce, and at times highly divergent, “positive peace”2 based on gender, racial, and economic equality and social justice. Likewise, the Society of Friends, a religious society with Protestant roots historically known for its pacifism, worked alongside and within modernist artistic networks and transnational communities to raise funds for and distribute food and goods on both sides of the fighting, embodying their peace testimonies in volunteer work that sought to relieve the effects of war on refugees and civilians. These pacifist stories are often written out of history and forgotten by many, but provide us with a model of essential non-military responses to the advent of total war. Testimonies in Art & Action recuperates these lost histories and reminds us that there is still a call to incorporate pacifist philosophies in politics and in the events that are unfolding daily into history.
Testimonies in Art & Action: Igniting Pacifism in the Face of Total War creates a historical juncture with our present moment, illuminating how philosophies of nonviolence contained in art, literature, and action have been mobilized to stage a critical intervention in a progressively militarizing population. This exhibition juxtaposes primary source materials from the Quaker relief effort in Spain, much of which is from Haverford’s own Quaker & Special Collections, with student digital humanities projects that explore the peace testimonies embedded in the literature and art of the interwar period. In bringing together these multi-modal sources, this exhibition demonstrates the shared commitment to social justice and human rights that the pacifisms of the early twentieth century developed, particularly in the testimonial activism of the Society of Friends and public intellectuals. It aims to create a scholarly discussion focused on the themes of pacifism, activism, writing, and ethics; forms of resistance to total war; and social justice during the interwar period; and it demonstrates the interrelationship between “positive peace,” pacifism, and social justice.
From these thinkers and activists, we have learned the extreme repercussions of war on the lives of individuals, the need to teach our families and children to resist war, the need to support a politics that works towards equality, and the need to stay true to our values. Through their work, these authors, artists, and activists provide a vocabulary for peace, offering an alternative to the relentless war rhetoric of their era and our own. Their poetry, prose, art, and actions contain messages that can still help the people of the world stand up and advocate for peace today, as our contemporary moment continually witnesses outbreaks of total war.