Museums in Spain Under Review in Effort to ‘Move Past Colonial Framing’

State-run museums in Spain will soon be under review as part of an effort to further them “past a colonial framing” of history, a representative of Spain’s socialist-led government announced on Monday.

As first reported in the Guardian Tuesday, Ernest Urtasun, who was appointed culture minister last November, told the congressional culture committee that he was dedicated to “guaranteeing the effective exercise of cultural rights throughout Spain” and deepening the relationships between Spain’s museums and institutions worldwide.

“With that in mind, one of the challenges we’re proposing…is the establishment of spaces for dialogue and exchange that will allow us to move past a colonial framing or one rooted in old gender or ethnocentric habits that have so often damaged how we see heritage, history and artistic legacies.”

“As you know, museums are living organisms that respond to the issues and debates of the times,” he said, adding that a key goal for the country’s cultural sector “is the establishment of spaces for dialogue and exchange that will allow us to move past a colonial framing or one rooted in old gender or ethnocentric habits that have so often damaged how we see heritage, history and artistic legacies.”

According to Urtasun, the National Anthropological Museum and the Museum of America were already implementing updating their programs to reflect the culture ministry’s inclusive goals: “We’re working to recognize and draw attention to the perspectives of the communities and the memory of the peoples from whom these works on display came.”

Urtasun also singled out the rising incidents of art censorship in Spain, saying that his department stood with any artist or collective whose art was removed or barred from public display. Last summer, protests, led by the activist group Organización por la Libertad Artística (OLA), swept cities across Spain in reaction to the suppression of films, plays, and other artworks advocating LGBTQ+ and feminist perspectives. The protests unfolded against a season of tense national election, regional, and municipal elections in Spain, with many fearing the country was backsliding into conservativism, or even the Francoist fascism the nation overhauled in 1975.

Per reporting in Público and Hyperallergic, several liberal municipalities swung right, followed by instances of alleged censorship by the far-right parties Vox and People’s Party (PP): A municipality in Cantabria, an autonomous region in northern Spain, canceled a public screening of the Pixar movie Lightyear (2022), citing a kiss between two of the film’s female characters. Soon after, a theatrical adaption of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography, which explores transgender identities, was canceled; a staging of Lope de Vega’s classic The Villain of Getafe was also axed due to its use of set pieces resembling a phallus and vulva. Protesting the cancellation, members of OLA took to the streets chanting, “We will not be silent.”

“Protecting culture and understanding its relevance in building an equal society means protecting democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms and the welfare state,” said Urtasun in his address to the congressional culture committee.

In December 2023, Vox successfully scrapped a 23-year-old cultural festival in the northeastern city of Huesca by threatening to torpedo the upcoming budget offered by Huesca’s PP-controled council. Vox’s culture spokesperson, Joaquín Robles, however, denied all accusations that his party was censoring cultural expression in a public rebuttal to Urtasun.

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