Saturday, November 24, 2007

During my last few days in Barcelona, I took advantage of my metro day pass and my articket to visit several tourist sites and museums in town. Usually I stay as far away as possible from tourist sites, but I had visited the Sagrada Familia in 1998 when it was still covered in construction cloth and wanted to see what had been done with the Cathedral in the past nine years. The one really amazing thing about El Bruc was the Montserrat mountain range and surrounding landscape, which really revealed Gaudi's influences.


The Sagrada Familia in and of itself is quite an architectural feat. Replete with multiple styles enveloped into the nooks and crannies of the Basilica, the towers and all the adjoining Cathedral structures. I also went up to Parc Guell in the northern part of the city and walked up high above Barcelona. From where I stood I could look out over the entire city all the way to the Mediterranean sea.
Parc Guell is really beautiful. The trails are lined with cactus and palms, cedar pines and local trees I'm not familiar with. And entering from the Infinite Staircase on the western end of the park, I walked through and arrived in Parc Guell from the back. Gaudi's mosaic architecture, the colors and the green just make this a really fun park to visit and to be in. Just spending time there made my exit from Spain really, really wonderful.

On my penultimate day I made a point of visiting Barcelona's Jewish Quarter, or what used to be known as the Call (it still is). It's the site of Spain's oldest synagogue, dating back to the 3rd century of the Christian Era. What remains are ruins - the walls, the doorway, the windows...and dye baths from when it was turned into a "tinteria" (dye factory) after its destruction in the 14th century, when a massacre wiped out a large portion of the Jewish Quarter. Anyway, I went to visit the Quarter to try and get an understanding of the emotional weight, and physical appearance of where Jews were living prior to the Inquisition. What must it have been like?

Well, I know what it was like when I went. A very charming man (I didn't get his name) informed me that the donation would cover a tour of the synagogue. So, I gave him my 2 Euros, and he pulled back the curtain to reveal... the synagogue! Complete with chairs covered in plush red seating for the (apparent) services. Enough for a minyan, of course (that's 10 people). He spun in place to the right and showed me the dye baths, spun in place to the left and showed me the ancient walls. Informed me of the history of the Torah and then left me to my own devices.
It was great. And I could imagine the synagogue packed with people on Fridays and Saturdays...and for bar mitzvah's. It was sweet. And I also sensed this combination of vigilance and a knowing....the knowing that comes when your people have been living somewhere for a long time; the vigilance from histories of persecution.

That same day I went to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)'s show on Apartheid. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Amazing exhibit. Similar to my MACBA experience, the curators of this exhibit created a multi media space that engaged the historical, scientific, artistic and political dynamics and contexts of Apartheid in South Africa. The show specifically discussed the development of the concept of race and racism, originating in African colonial contexts and extending to the Holocaust. For example, the "African Village" zoos that were so popular in the 1920s and 1930s throughout Europe (not to mention the Worlds Fairs), and specifically the proliferation of the Venus Hottentot imagery. The exhibit also included references to U.S. racism, the Holocaust and the U.S. Black Power movements. Two of my favorite quotes from the sections detailing South African resistance to Apartheid:

"Strijdom, you have tampered with the women. You have struck a rock, you will be crushed."
by Lilian Ngoyi when she and Helen Joseph led 20,000 women in a protest against the amplification of the national identity pass system (August 9, 1956)

"Africa my beginning and Africa my end...they lay their sponges over the soil and soaked the resources to fill their coffers..."
by Poet Ingoapele Mandingoane in an underground gathering in the Miholti Black Theatre, Soweto, 1978

And this image, titled "The People Shall Govern" (photo by Eli Weinberg, from the Robben Island Mayibuye Archives) stopped me in my tracks for a good minute:


As an artist, Spain revealed its weighted history to me. I loved Barcelona, and was fortunate enough to be hosted by wonderful friends. I also came to understand the importance of specific criteria for creating new work. Not all residencies are the same, and Can Serrat, while very jovial, is a good place for people who work well with lots of distractions. Who can focus in the middle of a storm. The visual artist studio spaces are also fantastic.

I'm glad to be back in the Americas, though I look forward to future trips over the Atlantic. Always a powerful experience, though the flight is the same as if I was going from New York to Califorina. Something about crossing water, though, always strikes me. Always.

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