October 05, 2018
Maite Pinto (Logroño, 1993) has been chosen as winner of the Itzal Aktiboa Prize for her project entitled "The Kindness of Strangers". Based on the experience of 4,000 Basque children who were sent to England in May 1937 as refugees from the Spanish Civil War, her series of aquatint etchings gives a moving account of a historical event that is highly relevant in today’s world.
It's a bitter-sweet story that Maite Pinto has chosen as her subject. In the spring of 1937, some 37,000 children were evacuated from the Basque Country to destinations as far-flung as Mexico and the Soviet Union. Some 4,000 were sent to England.
They embarked on the SS Habana in Santurtzi, near Bilbao, on an overcast morning in late May, accompanied by two doctors, four nurses, 15 priests and more than 200 teachers and assistants. It was an uncomfortable two-day voyage, in a ship equipped to receive only 800 passengers. The weather was stormy, and the threat of attack by German forces was constant. When they docked in Southampton, the children were greeted by volunteers who spoke to them in a friendly manner but in a language that they did not understand. It was the start of days, weeks and months of uncertainty and displacement.
After three months under canvas, the children were scattered in different parts of the United Kingdom. Some were placed in institutional homes. Others were welcomed by families. Brothers and sisters were sometimes separated, the food was often unappetizing, and those who went to school had difficulty following the lessons. What news reached them from Spain was often tragic.
And yet, for many of these children, this was to be one of the most beautiful adventures of their lives. Lasting relationships were forged, memories remained vivid. Until recently, nonetheless, their story was largely unknown outside a narrow circle.
At the end of the Civil War, most of the children returned to the Basque Country. A few hundred, however, remained in the United Kingdom. In 2009, an association was formed to preserve the memory of their stay. It was in the archives of this association that Maite Pinto, a young artist from Bilbao, discovered the photographs that inspired her project, while taking a post-graduate course at the Manchester School of Art.
In reworking the scenes in these photos as aquatint etchings, some now on display in Saint Jean Pied de Port, Maite Pinto invites us to reflect on the current situation of refugees throughout the world. "I try to tell this story and reinterpret it, sharing these memories and connecting them to the current context in which the same stories are repeated through emigration and flight."
According to Pantxoa Etchegoin, director of the Basque Cultural Institute and one of the jury members, "Maite's combination of a significant message and technical accomplishment has produced a work of great finesse."
GazteArtea Garazin, the exhibition at the Bishops’ Prison (41, rue de la Citadelle) brings together work by 10 of the 34 young artists who participated in the competition for the 2,000 euros Itzal Aktiboa Prize. Organized by Itzal aktiboa in collaboration with the Basque Cultural Institute and the Centre for Contemporary Art of Huarte (Navarre), the contest is supported of the Département of Pyrénées Atlantiques and the Communauté Agglomération Pays Basque.