Category Archives: visual media

Don Quixote as Napoleon: propaganda in Spain’s war of independence, II: the print

Part II of our reposting from the BL European Studies blog on Don Quixote as Napoleon. Find the original here: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2016/02/don-quixote-as-napoleon-2.html 

The Mexico edition of Francisco Meseguer, El Don Quixote de ahora con el Sancho Panza de antaño, was published in 1809, after the Córdoba edition of the same year. It includes a the coloured fold-out cartoon apparently not present in the Spanish editions, which focuses on the situation in Spain in 1808 sometime after the ‘Dos de Mayo’ uprising in Madrid against the French.

Meseguer4

Fold-out caricature from Francisco Meseguer, El Don Quixote de ahora con el Sancho Panza de antaño (Mexico, 1809) British Library 9180.e.6.(30)

The main caption reads: ‘El Quijote de n[ues]tros t[iem]pos (Napoleon) caballero sobre su rocin (Godoy) y puestos los ojos en la encantada Dulcinea (America) Consuela á su buen escudero Sancho (Murat) de la perdida del Gobierno de la Insula Barataria (España)’ (‘The Quixote of our times (Napoleon) astride his nag (Godoy) and with his gaze fixed on the enchanted Dulcinea (America) consoles his good squire Sancho (Murat) for the loss of the Isle of Barataria (Spain)’.

During the confused period in Franco-Spanish relations, 1807-08, Spanish Prime Minister Godoy had in effect collaborated with Napoleon who, according to the historian Raymond Carr, despised him. Godoy, cast as Rocinante, the figure to the right on all fours, admits ‘Esto y mucho mas merezco‘ (‘All this and more I deserve’). In March 1808 Godoy’s ever increasing unpopularity in Spain prompted his dismissal by Carlos IV, who himself abdicated in favour of his son Fernando.

800px-Manuel_Godoy_Spain

Manuel Godoy, portrait by Goya (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The ambitions of General Murat (as Sancho, in centre), Napoleon’s lieutenant in Spain, were frustrated after the brutal suppression of the Madrid uprising: ‘Todo se lo llevó el Diablo. Ya no soy gov[ernad]or’ (‘The Devil has taken everything. I am no longer governor’), he laments. ‘Insula Barataria’, depicted as a castle to the left of Murat, refers to the make-believe island of which Sancho Panza was made governor in one of the practical jokes devised by the Duke and Duchess in Part II of Don Quixote.

519px-Murat2

General Murat, ca. 1808, portrait by François Gérard (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

The consolation offered to Murat by Napoleon/Quixote is a possible role in the Spanish colonies: ‘q[u]e si logro desencantar a Dulcinea te hare Arzob[is]po u Adelantado’ (‘if I succeed in disenchanting Dulcinea, I shall make you Archbishop or Governor’). This is a further allusion to Part II of Cervantes’ novel in which Sancho Panza convinces his master that Dulcinea’s appearance as a peasant girl is the work of enchanters.

Don Quixote Napoleon detail 2

America is represented as Dulcinea (top, centre; detail above) but in the guise of a woman wearing a native American headdress. The text reads ‘La América será una Dulcinea encantada q[u]e jamas has de pose[e]r’ (‘America shall be an enchanted Dulcinea that you will never possess’). The focus on the colonies in the cartoon is consonant with the reprinting of the work in Mexico. Following the French invasion of Spain and the imposition of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne, Mexicans either affirmed their allegiance to Fernando VII or sought independence.
Don Quixote Napoleon detail 1

Bonaparte, represented as the ‘Quixote of our times’ (above), is depicted much as Don Quixote had been in the many editions of the novel hitherto. He wears ancient body armour and on his head the so-called helmet of Mambrino, in reality a barber’s basin. The basin-helmet is labelled the crown of Spain, with the caption ‘No tiene encaje este yelmo, no le biene á tu cabeza’ (‘This helmet does not fit; it is not right on your head’). His shield however has the emblem of the Gallic rooster and the motto ‘El caballero de los gallos’ (‘The Knight of the Roosters’). Napoleon is somewhat thin, but not short of stature, as the Emperor was usually depicted and is indeed described in Meseguer’s text.

The windmill (far left) references the most famous episode of Don Quixote (Part 1, ch. 8). The caption reads ‘Con un molino basta para asorarte’ (‘A single windmill is sufficient to put the wind up you’). Don Quixote was brave – and rash – enough to charge one of the group of windmills. The fearsome sight of just one would have been too much for Napoleon, ‘The Quixote of our times’? The ambiguity, bravery-rashness, takes us back to the ambivalence of Meseguer’s text.

Geoff West, former Head of Hispanic Collections, British Library

References/further reading

Raymond Carr, Spain 1808-1975. 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1982) 82/22993

Charles J. Esdaile. Spain in the Liberal Age. From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939. (Oxford, 2000) YC.2000.a.11398.

 

Advertisements

Father Oriol Maria Diví : Catalan master in bookplate design

This piece was originally posted under the title ‘A Benedictine bookplate designer’ on the Cambridge University Library European Languages blog. The original post can be seen here. Many thanks to the librarians at CUL for kindly allowing us to repost this on the ACLAIIR blog.

……………….

The origins of the European exlibris or bookplate lie in the woodblock prints of fifteenth-century Germany, while the first known British bookplate records the gift of books by Sir Nicholas Bacon to Cambridge University Library in 1574. The Library’s collections contain many thousands of diverse examples, intended as a record of ownership but ideally also a sign of the personality and tastes of the user and the artistic abilities of the designer and printer. Sadly a very small proportion of the Library’s holdings are recorded on Newton and a few thousand only on a card index kept in the Rare Books Room.

1960s

A recent addition to the Library is a volume depicting bookplates made by the Benedictine monk Father Oriol Maria Diví, who is regarded as a Catalan master in the art of woodblock printing. Only 200 copies of this volume were produced. (F201.a.8.1)

When I was a child, Esplugues, my home town, was agricultural. The seasons of the year displayed themselves in all magnificence. The fields, vineyards, olive trees, wheat, poppies … The robins and swallows … The trees stripped bare and then dressed themselves again. Everything made my heart pounce … my bookplate prints remind me of all this.

Father Oriol entered the Benedictine community as a novice on July 3rd 1956, and given his great aptitude for drawing, he was enrolled at the Conservatorio de las Artes del Libro, where he learnt the art of engraving under Antoni Ollé Pinell. He travelled extensively in Europe in 1969 and 1970, and during this period established many contacts with artists and collectors of bookplates.

2000s

This volume gathers together and reproduces chronologically some 572 bookplates made by Father Oriol between 1960 and 2011, 499 of them being woodcuts from boxwood. 25 bookplates printed from the original wooden blocks are also inserted. In addition there are three short introductory essays – one on Father Oriol, another on the art of the bookplate and a third on xylography – in Catalan with translations in Spanish, English, German and Italian.

Brian Jenkins and David Lowe

Barcelona and the Avant Garde

This post is reproduced with permission from the British Library European Studies blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2015/02/barcelona-and-the-avant-garde.html

Barcelona was more open to outside influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than the Spanish capital, Madrid. It witnessed the flowering of modernisme, the Catalan variant of art nouveau, whose most notable exponent was the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudí. He continued his most extravagant project, the Sagrada Familia, until his death in 1926.

However, by 1906 modernisme was considered overly aesthetic and had given way to noucentisme. Initiated by Eugeni d’Ors, this cultural and intellectual movement, literally ‘of the new century’, was urban, middle-class and distinctly nationalist both politically and culturally. In the visual arts and literature, noucentisme can be seen as a return to order, to Classicism and social cohesion after the individualism of modernisme. In fact, Catalan artists and writers were influenced by movements from elsewhere in Europe, but remained true to local traditions, spirit and language. The avant-garde movement in Barcelona should be seen against the background of noucentisme, sometimes emerging from it, at other times provoked by it.

Spain’s neutrality in the FirstWorld War brought a number of foreign artists to Barcelona. They included Serge Charchoune and Hélène Grunhoff, Albert Gleizes, Robert and Sonia Delaunay who went to nearby Sitges, and most notably Francis Picabia who published the first four issues of his Dadaist periodical 391 in the city in 1917 (1960 reprint, British Library X.902/721). Picasso returned from Paris to Barcelona  the same year, while Joan Miró continued to study and work in the region.

The key figure in the contemporary artistic life of the period was Josep Dalmau, who had opened his Galeries Dalmau in 1911. The following year he organized the first avant-garde art exhibition in Spain there, the ‘Exposició d’art cubista’ and also exhibited paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period. Dalmau mounted Miró’s first one-man show in 1918. However, with the end of the war, most of the foreigners left the region, while native artists were free again to travel abroad.

The first properly avant-garde movement in Catalonia can be dated to 1916 and the appearance of the first issue of Troços (‘Pieces’), founded by Josep Maria Junoy, a poet and art critic closely associated with Dalmau. Its content set a pattern for similar publications with its mixture of art criticism and verse, often calligrammatic and related thematically to the visual arts.  Junoy published a collection of poems, Poemes i cal.ligrames (RB.23.b.6900), in 1920, including a version of his earlier visual poem ‘Oda a Guynemer’ in memory of the French air ace Georges Guynemer.  The work earned him the praise of Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was the presence of Miró, the Catalan Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García and the Uruguayan Rafael Barradas that gave greatest impetus to this first expression of the avant garde in Barcelona. All three contributed to the publications initiated by Joan Salvat-Papasseit, arguably the most significant Catalan avant-garde writer in spite of his early death at the age of 30. JoanSalvat-Papasseit2

Joan Salvat-Papasseit, statue in Port Vell, Barcelona (picture by Tommykavanagh from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1917 Salvat-Papasseit founded the periodical Un enemic del poble (‘An Enemy of the People’, 1917-19) whose subtitle Fulla de subversió espiritual (‘Leaflet of Spiritual Subversion’) is indicative of his political radicalism. Salvat-Papasseit subsequently edited two further periodicals, Arc-voltaic (‘Arc-Lamp’; one issue, 1918) and Proa  (‘Prow’; two issues, 1921). In all three there is a similar collaboration between text and image, already manifest in Troços. A female figure by Miró appeared on the cover of Arc-voltaic, while the drawing by Barradas on an inside page is an example of his vibracionismo, a variant of Italian Futurism, illustrating the pulsating dynamism of the modern city. The texts included Italian and French versions of Torres-García’s ‘Art-evolució (a manera de manifest)’, a call for individuality and constant change in art which had already appeared in Catalan in Un enemic del poble the previous year. Salvat-Papasseit himself contributed a calligrammatic poem describing the city of Barcelona. The following year he issued Contra els poetes amb minúscula. Primer manifest català futurista (‘Against Lower-case Poets.  First Catalan Futurist Manifesto’), a call for an unspecified modernity in poetry. (Arc-voltaic, Un enemic del poble and Contra els poetes amb minúscula are all reprinted in the 1994 facsimile edition RF.2009.b.12.)

BarradasArc
Barradas’ ‘Vibrationist’ image from Arc-voltaic

Another volume of avant-garde verse, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (‘The Harbour Light and the Seagulls’), appeared in 1921, and also included a number of visual poems. The poet who showed most clearly contemporary influences from France and Italy was Joaquim Folguera who published Catalan versions of Italian futurist poems and works by Apollinaire in the noucentiste journal La Revista (1917; P.903/309).  Some of these were republished in his posthumous Traduccions i fragments of 1921 (YF.2009.a.11345).

Irradiador
Joan Salvat-Papasseit, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (Barcelona, 1921). YF.2009.a.11418

The early Catalan literary Avant Garde ended with the military coup  of 1923 that imposed the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera and effectively suppressed Catalan nationalism. Dalmau meanwhile continued his work in Barcelona, mounting an exhibition by Picabia in 1922 and Salvador Dalí’s first one-man show in 1925. Miró moved to Paris and Dalí to Madrid, but neither ever severed their links with Catalonia. After the premature deaths of Folguera and Salvat-Papasseit, J.V. Foix remained as the sole major writer of the Catalan avant garde. The author of Gertrudis (1927; 1983 edition YA.1986.a.4647) and KRTU (1932; 1983 edition YA.1987.a.14346), both illustrated by Miró, he also had a key role in the important contemporary journal L’Amic de les arts (Sitges, 1926-29; 2008 facsimile at LF.37.b.135).

Two of the collaborators on L’Amic de les arts were the art critic Sebastià Gasch and the writer Lluís Montanyà.  In 1928, together with Dalí, they produced the most strident of avant-garde manifestos in Catalan, the Manifest antiartístic català, but generally known as the Manifest groc (‘Yellow Manifesto’) because of the colour of its pages. It championed modernity: cinema, jazz, contemporary architecture, photography, motor cars and ocean liners, and contemporary figures: Picasso, Gris, Le Corbusier, Stravinsky, Tzara…  Its targets however were specifically local, for it attacked modern Catalan poetry and music, while venerable cultural institutions such as the music society, the Orfeó Català, were rubbished as old hat, lacking in boldness and invention.

With the advent of the Second Spanish Republic  in 1931, Catalan nationalism and cultural life were revived in the visual arts and architecture. Most prominent among the artistic organisations was ADLAN, Agrupació ‘Amics de l’Art Nou’ (‘Association of Friends of New Art’) which was founded in 1932 and became the major champion of the Avant Garde. Its members included Dalí, Miró, Foix, Gasch, the composer Robert Gerhard, the architect Josep Lluís Sert and other members of the association GATCPAC (Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Catalanes para la Arquitectura Contemporánea). ADLAN mounted three Miró exhibitions, the first Picasso retrospective (1936) and the Exposició logicofobista which included almost all avant-garde Catalan artists. It also organized shows devoted to leading figures of the wider avant garde: Alexander Calder (1933) and both Hans Arp and Man Ray in 1935.  Concerts of contemporary music, especially jazz, cinema showings, poetry readings (by García Lorca, for example) figured in their other activities. In 1934, ADLAN and GATCPAC were responsible for the special issue, devoted to twentieth-century European art, of the classy cultural magazine D’ací i d’allà (ZA.9.d.386). Miró designed the cover and an accompanying pochoir.  All this creative energy and enterprise was crushed by the Fascist uprising of 1936 and the ensuing Spanish Civil War.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies

This is an edited version of my article in Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937, ed. Stephen Bury (London: the British Library, 2007), pp. 71-73. YC.2008.b.251

You can find out more about the arts in Barcelona at our event  ‘Barcelona Kaleidoscope’, on 27 February.

 

Resources for Spanish cinema

The 2014 Norman MacColl Symposium, organised by the Spanish and Portuguese Department of Cambridge University and convened by Prof. Brad Epps, was held on the 1st of November at Clare College under the title “Canon, contra-canon y cinefilia: Historias del cine español en un contexto internacional.”

The symposium encouraged debate around key trends and issues of Spanish cinema. The distinctive style of Spanish cinema, deeply rooted in the Spanish tradition of the sainete and the esperpento (the farce and the absurd), gradually evolved to become an open space where popular cinema grew alongside sophisticated styles inspired by Hollywood or Paris. Although Spain’s political isolation under Franco prevented film makers from fully absorbing European new waves, the death of Franco in 1975 saw a burst of creativity and experimentation that placed Spanish cinema back in the international arena.

El cine sonoro en la II República (1929-1936), by Román Gubern.

El cine sonoro en la II República (1929-1936), by Román Gubern.

This year’s MacColl lecturer was Roman Gubern Garriga-Nogués, Emeritus Professor of Audiovisual communication at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Prof. Gubern has been President of the Spanish Association of Film Historians (Asociación Española de Historiadores del Cine). He is also a member of a long list of bodies in the Arts and the Sciences, including the French Association for Research on the History of Cinema (Association Française pour la Recherche sur l´Histoire du Cinéma). Professor Gubern’s work articulates around three different strands: the historiography of cinema, with special emphasis on Spanish cinema; the language of comics, and the theory of image. He has written over 50 books and more than 200 journal articles.

Cambridge University Library holds several leading journals on cinema with good coverage of Spanish film studies. Here are some of the most representative titles:

Studies in Hispanic cinemas, continued by Studies in Spanish & Latin American cinemas

Studies in European cinema

New cinemas

New review of film and television studies

The singularities, vibrancy and diversity of Spanish cinema have attracted interest from researchers worldwide. Spanish cinema has helped broaden the understanding of Spanish social issues and culture. The following journals are a good starting point for researchers of Spanish cinema and popular culture:

Hispanic Research Journal: Iberian and Latin American Studies

Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Glynne Parker film history collection at Cambridge contains a small selection of books on Spanish cinema, particularly on Luís Buñuel. For further information, see the related blog post on Buñuel here.

……………………………………….

This post is an edited version of the piece which was first blogged on 28.11.14 by Sonia Morcillo, on the Cambridge University Library blog ‘European languages across borders’. The original version can be read in full here. Many thanks to Sonia for allowing ACLAIIR to repost this material.

Early Photography in Spain

This post is reblogged with kind permission of the author, and was originally posted on the BL European Studies blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2014/06/early-photography-in-spain.html 

The Spanish National Library in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional de España; BNE) has mounted a small, but representative exhibition drawn from its photographic collections, entitled ‘Fotografía en España (1850-1870)’. In that period, demand for photography grew rapidly as a means of documenting events and of capturing images of landscape, famous buildings, city landmarks, and art works. Photography also became a new medium for portraits of leading contemporary figures and of the family. It was also important for recording infrastructure projects.

Several of the photographers who worked in Spain were foreign. One of them was a Welshman, Charles Clifford (1819-1863), who set up business in Madrid in late 1850. He produced a considerable body of material over a short period of time, including the album Voyages en Espagne (1856), consisting of some 400 images of famous civil and ecclesiastical buildings and monuments.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE CharlesClifford1
Charles Clifford. Palacio de la Reina, Barcelona (1860).  BNE.

Clifford’s success brought him the patronage of the Queen Isabel II. He recorded some of the construction projects being undertaken in her reign, notably that of the canal which brought a secure supply of fresh water to Madrid and which bears her name.  In fact ‘Canal de Isabel II’ is still the name of the water utility of the Madrid region. He also accompanied the Queen on her royal journeys around Spain.

Another leading photographer, the Frenchman Jean Laurent (1816-1886), began his career in Madrid before Clifford. He too specialised in city views, buildings and monuments, and also in photographing works of art. The BNE exhibition includes his photograph of the Congreso de los Diputados  and also of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE Laurent1
Jean Laurent. Congreso de los Diputados, Madrid (1855-60). BNE.

Both Laurent and Clifford produced images of the Alhambra, considered probably the most picturesque (in the literal sense) site in Spain and an undoubted draw for the growing number of travellers in the second half of the 19th century. Another favourite destination was Santiago de Compostela, and the exhibition includes a photograph of the Pórtico de la Gloria by another British photographer, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-1868).

The exhibition includes a number of other subjects. There are portraits, e.g. of Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (author of The Three-Cornered Hat), the actress Adelaida Fernández Zapatero and the painter José María Castellanos; a female nude; and various ethnographic scenes.

The British Library does not systematically collect photographs. However, a number of special collections are held. Among these is a relatively little-known collection of photographs of Spain by British photographers. There are 230 photographs by Clifford, gathered in three albums, two of topographical and architectural views and the other of images of armour from the Real Armería  in the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is probable however that some of the photographs contained in this last album were the work of his wife, Jane, although they are generally attributed to Charles Clifford. Jane Clifford was an accomplished photographer in her own right and maintained the studio after Charles’s death. One of the albums of views (shelfmark 1785.c.1) was part of the bequest to the British Museum in 1900 of Henry Spencer Ashbee, the noted collector of works both of Miguel de Cervantes and of erotica.

Spanish Photos (GW) Madrid
Charles Clifford. Calle de Alcalá, Madrid , with the Cibeles fountain (ca. 1857). BL, 1785.c.1, no. 57.

Spanish Photos (GW) Salamanca
Charles Clifford. West door of Salamanca Cathedral (ca. 1858). BL 1704.d.9, no. 65.

The Library also holds 39 photographs by Charles Thurston Thompson, some of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the rest of the monastery church of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, in Portugal. These are held in two albums. Thompson held a post as photographer of art works at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). In 1866 he travelled to France, Spain and Portugal on a photographic expedition on behalf of the Department of Science and Art.

Spanish Photos (GW) Portico 2

Charles Thurston Thompson. Pórtico de la Gloria, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, with the statue of the Saint (1866).  BL 1811.a.18, no. 4.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies, British Library

Bibliography

Lee Fontanella, La historia de la fotografía en España (Madrid, 1981). LB.31.b.6876

Lee Fontanella, Clifford en España. Un fotógrafo en la Corte de Isabel II (Madrid, 1999). LF.31.b.5746

See also the British Library’s historic photographs feature: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/photographicproject/index.html and the  online catalogue of photographs: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/photographs/

– See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2014/06/early-photography-in-spain.html#sthash.Jh6bUPzL.dpuf

Women and Independence in Latin America: Databases, Debate and Dissemination

Between 2001 and 2006, researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Manchester constructed an online database of women involved in the processes of independence in Latin America.  The database was created as part of a five-year AHRC funded project entitled ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’. The digital resource contains over 2500 biographical entries and provides details of women’s and men’s political and social participation between 1790 and 1850. The overarching aim of the project was to rethink Latin American Independence in terms of gender.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Dr Claire Brewster, who is now a senior lecturer in Latin American history at the University of Newcastle, spent five years inputting references to women whose names were registered during this period. Focusing especially on Spanish South America, she input data from 266 publications and consulted 28 archives. The database is searchable not only by name, place and date, but also by groups of women. For example, users can search for women who belonged to specific tertulias, women who were executed by those who opposed Independence, women who were patriot spies or women who supported the royalists.  There are around 500 groups or links of this kind. From a researcher’s point of view, this is the most valuable aspect of the database as it shows the complex relationships between individuals and between their families. Loyalties were usually to families and loved ones, rather than to political ideology, but there is no doubt that the social upheaval created opportunities for women to operate more independently than in the ‘ancien regime’.

In May 2012, Professor Catherine Davies and her team at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh embarked upon on a new phase of the project entitled ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’. This new stage, which lasted for a year, was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council, as well as contributions from the Centre of Advanced Studies and the Horizon Hub at the University of Nottingham. The team transformed the ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’ website and its database into an interactive, community-driven resource, which will allow academic and non-academic audiences alike to exchange ideas and information about the Independence struggles and their contemporary relevance. This database can be consulted at www.genderlatam.org.uk.

One of the key goals of this stage of the project, which finished in July 2013, was to involve Latin American women in the UK and in Latin American countries in the recovery of their shared history, cultural heritage and identity, increasing their awareness and understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence. For this reason, the team worked on several community knowledge exchange programmes and cultural initiatives. In August and September 2012, Catherine travelled to Buenos Aires with Dr Iona MacIntyre from the University of Edinburgh (the project’s Co-Investigator) and Dr Maria Thomas from the University of Nottingham (the project’s research assistant) to collaborate with the Museo de la Mujer, a women’s history museum, on the ‘Libertadoras’ programme. This month-long series of cultural events featured plays, discussion groups, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours on the theme of the contemporary relevance of women’s contribution to Independence in Latin America.

Southwark exhibition

Southwark exhibition of Empowerment through Art.

Through the London-based Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a charity which supports Latin American female migrants in the UK, the team worked extensively with a group of teenage girls from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. They participated in a series of drama workshops on the theme of the nineteenth-century ‘Libertadoras’ and in a photography project which explored the girls’ identification with Latin America community in London and asked them to address concepts of freedom, liberation and independence.

The ‘Empowerment through Art’ photographic exhibition, which was presented at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham in March and April 2013 and at the premises of Southwark Council in London in May 2013, featured the girls’ own photographs alongside portraits of the participants taken of each participant by Mexican-British photographer Pablo Allison. The girls from LAWRS also presented a play which emerged from their drama workshops, entitled ‘Razones por las que luchar’ (Reasons for Fighting) at UCL’s Institute of the Americas on May 15 2013.

thomas 3

Drama workshops with teenagers from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

These events were exciting and timely because they provided a snapshot of how young, female Latin Americans see their adoptive country at a time the UK Latin American community is growing steadily. In 2008 there were around 186, 500 Latin Americans living in the UK and the numbers are rising. Although the community is now a large, dynamic and important presence in London, its experiences are often overlooked.  As representatives of this community, these girls presented themselves as empowered young women in the play and the photography exhibition. As Carolina Gottardo, the director of LAWRS, comments: ‘they are not victims; these are young women who can stand with their heads held high, looking toward the future. They are young women with ideals and potential, even though their situation as Latin American migrants in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language and the customs is not easy;  even when they have to face up to stereotypes about young women immigrants from an ethnic minority.’


Dr Maria Thomas was the research assistant on the project Women and Independence in Latin America, and is now a lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Exeter.

Direct travel experience versus photography storytelling

Being a photographer, researcher, and keen traveller at the same time, often puts me in a difficult situation. Seeing an exciting scene, my natural instinct stubbornly prompts me to take my camera out and start shooting. But then afterwards I realize, that it makes me poorer in fully experiencing the event. Even the widest camera lens considerably limits one’s scope. By focusing my attention on the camera’s viewfinder, I put myself on ‘the other side of the camera’ – like the future spectators of my work. By doing this, I deprive myself of the direct, fresh and instant encounter with the situation I choose to document. How far is it possible to create an engaging series of photographs and at the same time fully experience the situation? Or is it always about some kind of compromise?

How do we experience a situation of a travel, a visit to a new place? We do it by our five senses: we see what is around, we hear the sounds, we smell, we can taste (if we decide to eat or drink something) and we feel through our skin: if we touch, if we feel the heat or the cold, or the humidity, or tiredness, or the breeze, or the sunshine etc. When I travel, what I remember most is what I feel in my skin. I lie on the beach on a sunny day, squeezing warm sand in my hands, feeling the sunshine on my face and a slight breeze on my skin. This is the memory I want to ‘freeze’, capture and re-use once I am back in cold, rainy London’s morning, waiting for a train on my way to work. These elements are obviously combined into complex interrelationships. The variations are endless. And it all combines into dynamic sequences, as these experiences are happening over period of time, with fluctuating conditions, and constantly changing impression and interpretation of what is going on.

Whenever we use any of the technologies to capture this experience, we start to ‘translate’ it into different language, and it always is a huge simplification. Having thought about it, especially having visited so many wonderful places, I felt completely impotent when it comes to sharing this experience with my family and friends. As a result of this realization, I started to collect a growing number of non-existing images. Situations of amazement, so often experienced when traveling, deeply engraved in my head, but without an attempt of any physical ‘translation’. Situations I might speak about, and try to give some justice to the complexity of the experience, describing not only what I have seen, but how I felt, if it was a pleasant experience or not, what was the most intense sensation.

Sometimes taking a photo might be simply impossible for various reasons, even if we are willing to take one. In September/October 2012, I was in the Colombian jungle, climbing Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on my way to the Ciudad Perdida, Lost City from the extinct Tayrona culture. On my way, I was interviewing some Kogi people, who live in the mountains. Kogis and Arhuacos are descendants of Tayrona, they both wear traditional white clothes and beautiful, dark, long hair. As I was there, there were many situations which I wanted to photograph, but I did not. Sometimes, because I was too slow to take out my camera. Sometimes, because I was too amazed seeing what I could see, which paralyzed me from doing anything else. Other time – and this is the most common reason I regularly collect non-existing photographs – because I was too intimidated to take the picture. Sometimes it was a question of protecting my camera in extreme weather conditions. Sometimes, it was a combination of all the reasons.

An example: I climb the mountain, sweating more than I could ever imagine I would, feeling really tired, and wondering why my backpack weighs more and more with every step I make. It is the same morning when two people get bitten by a scorpion, and an elderly Kogi man I interviewed warns me about the number of snakes in the area. I got into the trans of the walk, not feeling much more but the monotonous rhythm of my steps: left, right, left, right. I am surrounded by a tropical forest, a very dense flora of the jungle. Suddenly I am thrown out of my meditation by an unexpected scene: a Kogi family, parents and two kids, all dressed in white and all barefoot, cheerfully run down the hill to energetic rhythms of bachata, flowing from a small transistor radio the father of the family carries on his shoulder. I stop in amazement to watch that. The bachata and the barefoot jog was so surreal, that I didn’t even reach for my camera.

Non existing photographs are very personal and very subjective. We all know people who build up on their memories so much, that the imaginary parts melt into the real memories to the point, that after a while it’s impossible to tell them apart. That’s how the legends of one’s past emerge. We become stronger/weaker, older, more or less resistant, and a long walk might seem a short stroll after a while, or a five day trek in a jungle – an impossible physical task. Also, the question of objectivity and subjectivity comes into importance here. What might seem a lovely place for me, for example a great adventure of climbing in the jungle, admiring the abundance of nature, for some of my friends might seem a nightmare full of snakes and unnecessary physical exhaustion. Also – a regular trip to Colombia, a beautiful and welcoming place, for someone fearing the dangers of so-called third world, might be a synonym of insecurity and threat. These subjective emotions are also part of the non-existing photos, but you cannot include them in the real images. Or at least it’s a very hard task.

I would argue there is no way of creating satisfactory translation of the richness of travel experience in any known medium. It might well serve as a memory preserved in the image, but it will never replace the complexity of all senses of the direct experience.


Agata Lulkowska is a photographer, filmmaker, and Researcher of Indigenous Cultures of Colombia, pursuing her practice-based PhD at Birkbeck, University of London and regularly exhibiting her photographs in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna and other places in Europe. Central point of her research is the power of the visual media to create meaning.