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What Does La Movida Mean To You?

This article functions as an introduction/companion to the exhibition La Movida, curated by our Artistic Director of Visual Art Sarah Perks, providing you with the socio-cultural context about the Spanish movement that inspired the show. To write the text, author Nuria López posed a variety of artists the question ‘What does La Movida mean to you?’ The answers she received inspired the finished piece…

La Movida was a countercultural movement that happened in Spain, predominantly in Madrid – later expanding to other areas – in the early ‘80s, the period after the dictator Franco’s death. After this extended period of extreme right-wing government, one where tradition and Catholicism formed the basis of the Spanish culture, the country experienced a changing time without antecedents. Spain was living in an era of hope and liberation, an accelerated period when the country strove to approximate many modern European countries. “Spain, after centuries of delay, was going to become a European country overnight” claims artist Luis López Carrasco.

La Movida meant different things to different people. However, everyone agrees that those years were typified by excess. Too much partying, too many drugs, too much make-up, colour, hairspray, sex, noise and so on, appeared to be a shortcut to modernity. La Movida’s style rapidly invaded the most popular media of the time: television. As Luis continues: “When I was a child in the eighties, La Movida were weird people who appeared on TV music programmes. Careless transvestites, singers with a vampire voice, presenters with very black and teased-up hair. Spain was going to stop being Spain because of the window of excesses that the cinema and the television were at the time.”

A group of people discovered in La Movida the perfect context to experiment, without a feeling of fear, in fields such as music, film and visual art. “La Movida represents a freedom of expression, experimentation and creativity. To be who you want to be, be true to yourself regardless of gender, sexuality, class or any of society’s unnecessary restrictions” states Marissa Burgess, Manchester-based journalist and writer. The controversial artistic production explored during La Movida could not have been possible in previous years. Tesa Arranz, former lead singer of the 80’s popular Spanish band Los Zombies – and subject of Luis López Carrasco’s film Aliens – states “La Movida meant to me the spontaneous emergence of artists who came together to create and have a good time, free of political, religious and social repressions. A liberation!”

Alternatively, artist Alejandría Cinque reminds us, “We must assume that history is usually written by wealthy people, as it is they who have time to live it.” La Movida was a period of change and liberation in many ways. However, it has been criticised for a lack of political activism within such a movement, and some felt that the protagonists of La Movida were the children of wealthy families whose only interest was to spend their parents’ money partying and playing at being musicians and filmmakers. “The protagonists called themselves punks without necessarily reacting to anything, although they had enough to do getting rid of all the conservative and old-fashioned tradition” adds Alejandría. Perhaps the majority of people were not interested in political activism during these years, possibly the best word to describe the youth of these years is frivolity; but the excess, freedom and experimentation that took place during La Movida were crucial to change society’s minds. What happened in the ‘80s in Spain has influenced the way people think today. “The fact that La Movida is remembered is a triumph for those who enjoy sexual freedom as a way of life. Our responsibility now is to protect this writing, so that the narrations that do not interest to the authority are not buried or forgotten.” (Alejandría Cinque).

La Movida had a repercussion not only in social rights and people’s mentality, but has also influenced following generations’ way of thinking and understanding the world. Youth in Spain changed their leisure practices: they could now enjoy (after many years of repression and dictatorship) their spare time as they wanted. “Years later, studying in Madrid in the year 2000, La Movida’s legacy was a catalogue of rules on how to be uninhibited, modern and popular. Me and my flat mates looked at ourselves through our La Movida childhoods and knew exactly how to be young and idle, creative and dilettante” (Luis López Carrasco).

The Spanish movement that happened after the dictatorship was not an isolated event, it also took place in different countries during similar periods. Clara Casian, a Manchester-based artist, expresses, “For me, La Movida acts as a trigger for tracing manifestations of sin, morality and transgression through people and places that were part of the countercultural scene, active in the ‘70s and ‘80s and still going now”. Canadian artist Bruce LaBruce agrees: “La Movida has always been for me a sister of the punk movement in which I was involved in Toronto in the 1980s”. However, the artist acknowledges that “La Movida was a more expansive phenomenon, involving a kind of sexual revolution – drag queens, punks, prostitutes, queers and transgender people”.

Anne Louise Kershaw, Manchester curator and contributor to the exhibition’s publication Dark Habits, also expresses her opinion about the movement: “La Movida saw the end of suffocating structures and erupted into being through seismic shifts of censorship and self-censorship, or a complete lack of. La Movida means coming out of any closet you’ve ever been shoved into with an appetite for abruption”. Nevertheless, no one can guarantee that the rights acquired in these decades will remain for ever in our society. Freedom and sexual rights seem to move backwards, and conservative minds have re-appeared and risen to power in many parts of the world. However experimental we feel in our contemporary times, “fascism can always creep back, and artists and revolutionaries must always be prepared to continue their struggle against these oppressive forces.” (Bruce LaBruce)

La Movida as an exhibition is a contemporary response to the spirit of the ‘80s Spanish movement. The show brings together various international artists whose work reflect the feelings that characterised La Movida. Excess, pornography, liberation, music idols, queer, clubbing, eccentricism, punk and an explosion of madness are involved in the artworks here presented. In a period of political uncertainty, as we start to see our freedoms encroached by conservatism and nationalism amongst other things, La Movida reflects on the rights we now feel entitled to, and the notion of celebrating excess and hedonism as a way to freedom.

Written and collated by Nuria López.

More information on our new exhibition La Movida can be found here.

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