It’s Picasso’s Guernica (1937), the inspiration for Abdessemed’s piece, that resonates most harrowingly at the time we sit under the Gramercy Park Hotel’s sawtoothed chandeliers. It’s been just five days since the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. And the tragedy in her home town weighs heavily on Widmaier-Picasso. The attacks, which also closed the Grand Palais for several days, lead her to recall one of her grandfather’s most heroic moments in popular memory during the Nazi occupation of Paris: “The ambassador of the Nazis visited Picasso and Guernica was at MoMA at the time, but he had a reproduction in his studio. The Nazi ambassador says to him, ‘Did you do this?’ And Picasso looked back and said, ‘No, you did it.’”
His art, she suggests, made Picasso untouchable despite such boldness in the face of tyranny. And now, she hopes it can embolden those left in ISIS’s horrific wake. “When something like this happens, you feel disarmed, as if you’re [emotionally] naked,” she says. “You have to consider the very first values that humankind can have: solidarity, fraternity. It makes you go back to something very basic and crucial, and art can provide that.” The studio where Picasso created Guernica, denouncing tragedy the world over, has now been converted into a foundation by Widmaier-Picasso’s mother, Maya Widmaier-Picasso. “It’s such a symbolic place,” says Widmaier-Picasso of the studio at 7 Rue des Grands-Augustins. And perhaps it’s just the kind of symbol the French capital needs right now.