Removed from the hustle of Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, in the Fundación Entredós, a sanctuary for women to socialize and embrace the arts, two friends – an artist and an anthropologist – stir their tea and chat about their work on the new online feminist art magazine Inquire.
Eva Viera, 36, and Cristina Lagoma, 33, both identify as feminists and are actively engaged within the feminist art scene in Madrid that many say is expanding.
“Art is a way to create a reflection and reflect upon society,” said Viera, whose portraits of women of various ages appear on the cover and homepage of Inquire. The magazine, which launched in March, trumpets itself as a showcase for “artistic proposals and opinion with a gender perspective.”
Traditionally the art community in Spain is considered to be a man’s world, but female representation and the role of the feminist has continued to grow through presence and participation. And finally, artists and academics say, the perception that women can be successful artists is starting to shift.
“It’s not easy to be a feminist artist or considered a feminist artist because the art world is very paternalistic so you have a double fight,” said María María Acha-Kutscher, 46, an artist and activist who was originally from Peru but has lived in Madrid since 2001.
The renowned London-based Tate museum defines feminist art as works created by female artists to directly visualize and interpret feminist theory that began in the 1970s. Although that definition is more traditional, feminist art is also very much a personal interpretation of the concept.
“In the art world, there have always been women present and it’s growing, but in the economic aspect of controlling the arts there hasn’t been growth,” said Jesús Casas Grande, 55, subdirector general of programs in the Institute of Women and Equal Opportunities. The institute, which is a branch under the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, is tasked with ensuring that national laws are enforced. It also collects data on gender equality as well as creates “concrete programs” that work on a ministerial and local levels.
“A lot of people controlling the arts aren’t women,” he noted, adding that he hopes that will soon begin to change.
Marián López Fernández Cao, 51, the president of the Madrid association of Women in Contemporary Visual Arts, or MAV, states that every year, most museums have a budget to buy female work to balance inequality within institutions.
“In the Prado there’s very few women artists, and none were on display,” said Cao, who is also a professor and the previous director of the of Instifem, the feminist research institute of Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “Now we have seven [works],” including 14th century Flemish painter Clara Peeters, Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola, Italian Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi and 15th century Italian painter Giulia Lama.
“It’s not much but it’s something,” she said.
According to MAV, 23 percent of artists who exhibited at ARCOMadrid 2015 were women. The show was held in Madrid through the end of February to the beginning of March and is the largest international contemporary art fair in the world with more than 100,000 visitors. MAV found that Spanish female artist representation at ARCOMadrid only rose 1.5 percent from 4.4 to 5.9 percent from 2014 to 2015.
MAV also reported that out of the 28 galleries to show within ARCOMadrid 2015, only six were managed and run by women and six were co-directed.
Yolanda Domínguez, 38, who also identifies as a feminist artist from Madrid and mainly focuses on the use of video and photography, knows that female representation is low within Spain but is optimistic in the growth.
“I think in feminism we have advanced but in other things we’ve gone back,” she said. “I think feminist art is now well-known because there is a lot of works. We are making associations to make our art more visible.”
Some of the most recognizable female artists within Spain include not only Domínguez and Acha-Kutscher, but also Ana Laura Aláez from the Basque region, Carmen Calvo in Valencia, Eulàlia Valldosera in Barcelona, Suzy Gómez in Mallorca and Cristina Iglesias from San Sebastián.
Part of the reason feminist art has gained more attention is because, as stated by Domínguez, feminism is increasingly perceived as cool.
“Madrid has a more active feminist position and that’s evident in Madrid because it’s something that moves quicker because feminist activism is more present,” said Grande. “Madrid is non-sectarian, it’s a very open and comprehensive community.”
Fourth-wave feminism, which has emerged in the last 10 years, has been informally recognized as a heavily activist movement of feminism. As stated by Acha-Kutscher, the feminist scene within Madrid is largely divided between academic feminism and activist feminism.
Acha-Kutscher identifies herself and her work along the lines of activism. She states that when she moved to Madrid in 2001 after living in Mexico City, she decided to work as an artist with a purpose and contribute to the feminist movement. Her ongoing series Indignadas, or “Outraged Women,” was born out of the “15M movement,” which was the anti-austerity protests that overtook Spain in 2011, as well as Occupy Wall Street, radical feminist protest group FEMEN and Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot. Her work is created through transforming photographs into drawings and implementing her academic graphic design background.
“There’s a conjunction between feminist art and feminist activism,” said Acha-Kutscher. “It’s very important that [artists and activists] work together.”
For Viera and Lagoma, the Inquire project is inspired by the iconic font and cover layout of the men’s magazine, Esquire, and calls attention to female portrayal in the media through art and writing. Viera uses digital retouching instead to highlight each subject’s facial characteristics rather than create the commonplace airbrushed and idealistic images.
Through her studies and art, Viera has largely focused on the feminine role throughout history within her photography and videographic work. She is currently exploring how the childbearing feminine figure of the neolithic era has influenced society, spiritually and art.
“There’s a large chunk of history, other than the patriarchy, that experience a lot of peace because the sexes were equal,” said Viera. She hopes that her work will empower viewers and create a new collective of voices.
As noted by Cao, art itself doesn’t have to be strictly defined as feminist in order to increase awareness of the movement.
“There are a lot of women in the arts making things who are very conscious of their body and their culture,” said Cao. “It’s feminist if you realize you have a female body and it marks you in this society.”
Looking at Madrid, Viera and Lagoma have seen groups ranging from artistic to political bring forth feminist issues and bring the feminist fight into the mainstream parts of society.
“We want to propose new roles for women, for art and women, because sometimes the women are invisible,” said Lagoma. “We want people to know that you’re a girl and can do whatever you want.”
Cao notes that the problem with society applies to both women and men, noting the necessary means to reach equality and full implementation of the equality law is through compromise.
“With clear criteria most of inequality would disappear,” Cao said.
Madrid itself has been host to numerous feminist groups such as MAV, the Feminist Assembly of Madrid and the Feminist Policy Forum, as well as conferences and shows such as Cyberfem and the MAVForo, or MAV Forum.
Grande, who had previously worked at an environmental organization before joining the Institute of Women and Equal Opportunities, says that’s only the beginning. He’s excited to be part of what’s to come.
“People ask my why I work for women because I am not a woman, but I used to defend ducks and I wasn’t a duck,” he said. “Even though men and women are different, that difference doesn’t translate to having different rights. I am a feminist, I don’t work for women. I work for equality between men and women.”
This piece was originally published by NU Journalism Abroad.
With a booming real estate and building market leading up to the Spanish economic crisis in 2008, horses were bought by many Spaniards as a symbol of their wealth. Since then, though, many owners have been unable to sustain the costs in keeping the animals and have been forced to sell, abandon or kill their horses illegally, or send them off to be slaughtered.
“Back when the economy was on both its feet and people had substantial incomes, owning a horse was still a luxury but one could still afford it,” said María Jesús Alcalde Aldea, a professor of animal production at the University of Sevilla. “But when income starts to go down, horse maintenance quickly becomes costly, which is why people try to sell them off. Horses exchange hands, and those that didn’t end up in private owners’ farms were sent to be killed.”
Since 2008, Spain has been in a period of economic turmoil marked by a deflated real estate bubble and as much as 26 percent unemployment. The country is slowly regaining ground, with the Bank of Spain announcing in March that economic growth would be 2.8 percent this year. Also, unemployment has hovered at 23 percent since February. But many are still struggling.
“The economic crisis is still cutting very deep and it will be a long time before people feel better,” said Jill Rogers of the Andalusian Rescue Centre for Horses, or ARCH, in Málaga, which is in southern Spain. As a result, she said, “the animals will have to suffer.”
In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture for the country’s equine sector reported a horse population of 138,744, with just over 40 percent, or 56,386 horses, classified for private use. Five years later, according to figures released in 2014, the number of horses for private use had dropped by 23.3 percent to 31,053 horses.
At the same time, the slaughter numbers were on the rise: In 2012, 69,500 horses were slaughtered, almost double the number of yearly slaughters between 2002 to 2010. According to the ministry’s economic report on the horse sector, just over 13,380 of those horses were specifically classified for meat.
“It’s been an exceptional phenomenon that the crisis has brought about,” Aldea said.
And one that has not gone unnoticed across Spain and through the EU. “People now have found it simply unaffordable to keep the animals, and instead [have decided] that they can essentially make a quick buck and instead send the animals to slaughterhouses,” said Joe Moran, the project leader for companion animals within the European Union lobbying group EuroGroup for Animals. A typical horse can fetch 60 to 200 euros, or about $68 to $222, for its meat, he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture requires slaughters to be reported and outlines appropriate ways to either stun or kill an animal. For horses, a firearm, lethal injection or a captive bolt pistol is viewed as an humane means of stunning or killing.
A government bulletin released by the Ministry of the Presidency on Feb. 1, 2014, states that owners must register a slaughter and indicate the method of “stunning or killing used” and whether the carcass will be consumed or not if it is an “emergency killing” outside of a slaughterhouse.
“If a private owner decides to sacrifice one of his animals in the fields, that can’t be controlled,” Aldea said. “There’s no way of knowing or controlling that, but slaughterhouse rules are very strict.”
Despite the increased slaughter numbers, there is a limited market for the consumption of horse within the country. Aldea’s research on the current acceptability of horse meat through consumer surveys in 2013 states that more than 93 percent of participants do not consume it. However she does note that there is a greater consumer market in northern Spain within the Catalonia, Navarra, Valencia and Castile-Leon regions.
Aldea notes that the majority of meat is exported to France and Italy because there is a higher demand. Spain exported more than 4,391 horses or donkeys within the European Union in 2013, with almost 87 percent destined for Italy.
Breeders such as Melín Farriols and Marian Alonso of Horseway Farms, located 23 miles outside Barcelona, have noted that sales of their Pura Raza Española horses have been concentrated as well, mainly in France, Germany and England. Alonso notes this is largely because those countries are horse-friendly and haven’t had drastic blows to their economy.
The Farriols family has bred and raised historic Pura Raza Española, or PRE horses, for 35 years. The breed, which dates back to the stables of King Philip II, features Hollywood status flowing manes and was originally known for its prowess as a war horse. Out of the 19 breeds tracked by the Ministry of Agriculture, Pura Raza Española make up the majority of the population, accompanied by other breeds such as the regionally bred Galicia and Navarra ponies as well as other breeds such as Arabians, English Thoroughbreds and Spanish Trotters.
Currently, the Farriols’ barn has 45 horses, but Alonso noted that the economic climate in the country has reduced the number of horses they’ve been able to keep.
Farriols said that the economy has also reduced the prices of their horses and have forced them to only birth three to four colts a year rather than the typical eight to 15.
Despite their setbacks, Alonso and Farriols strongly believe that slaughter is the last resort.
“We only sell horses to private owners who enjoy horse riding and domesticating horses,” Alonso said. “We’ve never sold horses for their meat. It goes against our philosophy: love for all animals.”
One barn owner wishes everyone had that kind of attitude. But she knows that’s not the case.
“There’s just too many horses and nobody wants them,” said Sue Weeding, of Easy Horse Care Rescue Center, in the town of Rojales in the province of Alicante, Spain, where more than 90 horses, ponies and donkeys have been rescued and now live.
Weeding, along with her husband Rod, British nationals who moved to Spain in 2001, have seen up close the impacts of a punishing economy on some of the country’s most vulnerable inhabitants. And they, too, are not immune to the effects of money woes at their farm.
For example, it costs the Weedings about $4,500 a week to take care of the animals – money they must sometimes beg for from donors and horse enthusiasts who, like they, cannot stand to see the animals suffer for the lack of resources of their owners.
The Weedings believe this was in part the case with their first rescue horse, Luceiro. The 3-year-old male was found by them at the start of the financial crisis, in 2008, in a dark stable near their town in the southwest of Spain. “He was never let out and had a rotten, injured eye,” Sue Weeding said.
The horse’s owner had, for the most part, stopped feeding him, she said, which, if managed correctly, would have cost a couple hundred dollars a month. Instead, “They were going to send him to meat.” Luceiro still lives at their farm today.
Many of the horses at their facility now have been rescued or brought to them through the local police, a practice that has only recently begun. At least four of their most recent additions are a direct result of the economic crisis in Spain, Sue Weeding said.
“If any horse or donkey abuse is reported to [the police], they contact us,” she said. “Before, nobody ever got involved in this. The police didn’t know and the public looked the other way. Horses are just shut away so people aren’t aware of how many horses there are.”
Aldea predicts that the horse population will eventually stabilize in accordance with people’s economic status, but will not reach the high levels the country had seven years ago.
Also, the increased public awareness in the treatment of unwanted horses marks a turning point in animal welfare within Spain.
Rescue efforts have been gaining media coverage and some instances of abandonment and abuse have also been brought to trial as a result. The EuroGroup will also be presenting a report at the next session of the EU Parliament on June 11 on the state of animal welfare within the EU that will specifically focus on equine welfare.
The recent explosion of attention to the matter has given many hope. “There is a big difference between cruelty and ignorance,” said Weeding on a recent blazing hot spring day.
She took time to come in from the farm to talk about her hopes for the future of the animals she loves. “Ignorance is when you can make a difference through education,” she said. “Cruelty is when there is no hope.”
This piece was originally published by NU Journalism Abroad.
Chronicling my journalistic endeavors.
All ocean conservation/biodiversity posts are my own original thoughts. All other posts are my work for other publications.