December 8, 2010

This Virgin Mary is 62% Cacao

During the recent run up to Parliamentary elections in the region of Catalan, Spain, candidate Alicia Sanchez-Camacho defended her (conservative) People's Party's campaign video, which depicted the candidate as a gun toting defender of Catalan gleefully shooting immigrants dead. She strenuously objected, however, to an advertisement created by the youth wing of the Spanish Socialist Party, which depicted a woman having an orgasm as she voted.

The Green Party candidate noted wryly that it would be "very difficult to reach orgasm voting for any of the candidates, myself included." But when all the votes were counted two weeks ago, Barcelona's pro-business conservatives and nationalists were the ones getting their guns off. They beat the Socialists handily, and took a giant step toward their goal of seeking more economic independence from Spain.

So, women engaged in immigrant killing as a vote magnet --sure. Women voters ecstatically doing their own thing? Not so much.

In fact, it was a challenge to find much of any female creative self-expression during my stay in Barcelona. There is a great deal of appreciation of the female form, of course. Its everywhere -- in advertisements, at dance clubs, shouted from random men on the streets as one passes by. The religious iconography here fetishizes women. I even saw an exquisitely carved pieta (the Virgin Mary holding a dying Christ) made out of chocolate.

There were stunning images of women in Medieval art in Spain -- women as saints, virgins, wives, mothers -- their faces and their roles carved in wood, static for the last 700 years. And the dictator Francisco Franco held that these roles were the only ones women could ever have in Spanish culture, at least as long as he was running the show.

The female form saturates much of the decorative arts and architecture of the Modernisme (Art Nouveau) movement. Gaudi's work is curves, curves, curves, and Miro's is soft, rounded shapes. Gaspar Homar, Ramon Casas, Luis Graner and Gaspar Camps created paintings and furniture pieces in which the 'figura feminina' is the metaphor for nature, for exotica, and for all things pleasing and beautiful.

It dawned on me that I could not find one exhibition of art made by women in this beautiful city. In fact, the collection on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona -- representing culturally relevant work from the last 50 years (paintings, installations, collages) -- was work by male artists only. The closest I came to seeing something of the female experience was a visit to the Monestir de Pedralbes, a Gothic nunnery built in the early 1300's, which houses a collection of religious icons selected and preserved by generations of nuns. Of course these women lived in tiny cells and worked and prayed all day, and were likely not ever ecstatically self-fulfilled. At least not in the physical sense.

For me, the contrast between the depiction of Spanish women as objects of desire on the one hand and as chaste religious supplicants on the other certainly reached its zenith when I saw a Virgin Mary one could lick. Not the same kind of pleasure as killing people who are unlike you, I suppose. But possibly as fun as voting.

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