Ghosts of War: Artist superimposes Spanish Civil War scenes on to modern life

Hell’s bitter winds have suddenly reversed and the darkest visions of the Spanish Civil War have drifted back onto the streets of Madrid.

Ghosts of War: Artist superimposes Spanish Civil War scenes on to modern life
All photos from Sebastian Maharg's Pasado en Paralelo project.

And for this, we can thank Chicago-born artist Sebastian Maharg, who has made it possible for us to remember what many of us never even saw. 

Leah Pattem spoke to the artist about the powerful inter-dimensional images and the personal story behind them.

“I want people to realise that this happened right here – closer than we think. It’s easy to look at an old, black and white photograph and be fairly detached  or unphased by what’s in it. But, if that same photo is slotted into a context you walk by every day, then suddenly you’re a participant in that bit of history,” he explained.

“My maternal grandfather fought in the war on the National side and was killed in action on January 21st, 1939, making it almost 80 years to the day. That certainly makes it hit home,” he said.

Spain still struggles to deal with what happened during the Spanish Civil War – the subject that Maharg covers in his works. All of the vintage photographs featured in his images were taken between 1936 and 1939, during the fighting, and it doesn’t make easy viewing.

READ ALSO: The 14 best books about the Spanish Civil War 

“The Spanish Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship are still taboo subjects in many respects. There’s a pervasive attitude by most to just sweep it all under the carpet. Unlike in Italy and Germany, the Franco regime was never toppled, so the elite forged during the dictatorship was never purged and very much still held sway over policy on how to deal with the legacy of the Civil War after Franco’s death. That’s, of course, very one-sided, but today, we’re still seeing how these issues have never been properly resolved,” said Maharg.

“One example is the whole Valley of the Fallen question about where to bury Franco. There are those who still have family members buried in unmarked ditches on the sides of roads, while many streets and squares have been named after the men who were responsible for their deaths.

“Passions still run high and putting aside the diverging stances on the war itself, ultimately the project is about people, not politics. I’d like my photographs to tell the story of ordinary folks coping in very dark times – we shouldn’t sweep that under the carpet.”

Sebastian Maharg’s project, Pasado en Paralelo (the past in parallel), is ongoing.

See more of his images, and continue following his new works via websiteFacebookTwitter and Instagram. But first, check out his images below: 


Leah Pattem is the founder of Madrid No Frills, a blog that celebrates those overlooked corners of Madrid untouched by the gentrification and modernization that has transformed the city in recent decades.

To discover stories that reveal the grittier, real side of Spain's capital, follow her on the Madrid No Frills blog, on Facebook and in Instagram


Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.