Spain: Exhibition organisers censor artworks by former terrorist prisoners

20 December 2016

Curators of art exhibition ‘Giltzapekoak: Notas Sobre La Reclusión’ (Giltzapekoak: Notes on Imprisonment) reported that the San Sebastián 2016 Foundation decided to censor various artworks made by prisoners and former prisoners of Basque terrorist group ETA that were to be displayed as part of the San Sebastián 2016 European Culture Capital programme. The foundation claims it took the decision in order to “protect the sensitivity of terrorism victims”, reported Spanish newspaper El País on 18 November 2016.

The censored artworks consisted of a few drawings, a painting and a movie, which were not displayed in the exhibition; however, their place was kept and instead of the work brown paper was put up with the words “censored artwork” in Spanish and Basque.

Pablo Berástegui, director of the San Sebastián Cultural Capital project, explained that the exhibition decided to exclude the artworks by ETA prisoners because they “could harm the terrorism victims”, and thus he deemed it had to be prioritised over the freedom of exhibition.

The director made it clear that there was nothing in the artworks that could be considered offensive, stating that the problem relied solely on who the artists were.  Berástegui and the curators refused to disclose the artists’ names.

Reactions to the censorship
Pablo Marte, one of the exhibition’s curators, stated that some of the artwork was “clearly censored” by the San Sebastián 2016 Foundation, which “not only is an inadmissible act, totally opposed to any code of good practice” but also “weakens the exhibition’s scope, since its base discourse is clearly minimized, like a body whose organs are removed”.

Spanish Education, Culture and Sports Minister Iñigo Méndez de Vigo said the Spanish government supported the decision and the reasons behind it, reported Euskal Irrati Telebista on 18 November 2016.  General Deputy of the Gipuzkoa province Markel Olano expressed full support for the action, saying he did not see it as “censorship”, and while the decision was hard to make, it was necessary.

Kalera, Kalera, a collective of former ETA inmates, announced they would hold their own art exhibition in December 2016, without censorship of any kind, where ETA prisoners and former prisoners will be able to display and share their art, reported El País on 24 November 2016.

Exhibition focus on Basque Country region
The exhibition was part of a larger art exhibition entitled ‘Sin Lugares, Sin Tiempo’ (No Places, No Time) which consisted of a series of artworks by convicts and ex-convicts of prisons, as well as patients and former patients of asylums and psychiatric hospitals. The large exhibition featured artworks from various countries, however the Giltzapekoak exhibition was exclusively dedicated to the Basque Country region in northern Spain.

The San Sebastián 2016 Foundation is sponsored by the Basque regional government, Spanish central government, Gipuzkoa province deputation, and San Sebastian city hall.

Earlier ETA controversy
This is not the first time that the San Sebastián 2016 Foundation has been at the centre of a scandal involving ETA in 2016. In April, one of the exhibitions organised as part of the European Cultural Capital 2016 initiative entitled ‘Tratados de Paz’ (Peace Treaties) defined the terrorist organisation as a “political, military and cultural phenomenon”. This caused the Spanish Ministry of Culture, one of the foundation’s patrons, to issue a formal complaint.

ETA, formed in 1959, has been, since its formation, the main terrorist actor in Spain, claiming more than 800 lives in their attacks, and leaving thousands injured. They have been known for their particularly bloody bombings of civilian targets in an effort to pressure the Spanish government to grant independence to the Basque Country region.

Photo: Giltzapekoak: Notas Sobre La Reclusión/Donostia San Sebastián 2016 European Capital of Culture website


» El País – 24 November 2016
ETA prisoners will display their artworks in an exhibition “without censorship” in Usurbil

» El País – 18 November 2016
San Sebastián 2016 censors ETA prisoners’ artworks in an exhibition

» Euskal Irrati Telebista – 18 November 2016
Olano sees no censorship in removing prisoners’ artwork from exhibition

» Noticias de Gipuzkoa – 18 November 2016
Art to evade oneself from Hell

» 20 Minutos – 17 November 2016
DSS2016 exhibition curators report “censorship” of two works of art due to being authored by ETA prisoners

» El Mundo
The Terror Dictatorship

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