An exhibition has been set up in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, to shed light on the untold story of 4000 Basque children escaping the Spanish Civil War and migrating to the UK in 1937.
A destructive series of bombing in Guernica in 1937 caused an outrage in Britain, influencing the Government to allow one boatload of refugee children and their guardians to enter the country and escape the terrors of war in Spain.
Of the 4000 exiled children, 25 were welcomed into the Salford community. An orphanage on Seedley Road quickly became their second home.
Local artist Claire Hignett accidentally stumbled upon this story in 2012 after reading a book about the men and women from Manchester who fought in the Civil War.
The news of this untold narrative took Claire by surprise: “I lived just around the corner, and I knew nothing about this story at all!”
After undertaking thorough research, Claire began to understand the hardships the children had faced and the effect the Basque children had on the community of Salford.
“I was doing a residency in a warehouse in Salford that involved my childhood toys, and the day my dolls arrived in the warehouse was the day the little Kurdish boy was found on the beach in Spain
“I spent a long time working through that. The fact that I had this really safe and secure childhood and then this boy that looked like a doll had been found on the beach.”
The impact of this mournful event, combined with the story of the basque children sent Claire’s creative juices flowing and inspired her art exhibit.
Claire created a doll to represent each of the Basque children that are preserved in a bag with a clear plastic panel, representing the separation of the children from society while also keeping them safe.
The process of creating this exhibition had real sentimental value to Claire,
“I am really emotionally attached to these dolls. They’ve all developed personalities
“It’s an historical story that’s been lost, and I think it’s an historical story that is really really relevant in the times that we are living in at the moment”
Flowing the interest that this story has accumulated, Claire is hoping to expand the project.
“I’m hoping to do something with the number 4000, the amount of children who came into Britain altogether because it’s a huge number of children when you think about it.
“I won’t be able to make 4000 dolls to represent them”, Claire laughed, “It’s going to have to be something quite different.”
When asked about what impact she intended her art to have on people, Claire replied:
“I wanted people to think and question, without throwing politics in people’s faces. And to start people having conversations, particularly about the sense of welcome because these children were so welcomed.
“I think it’s a conversation we need to have.”