Angry artists snub prizes from ‘indifferent’ ministry

Spanish photographer Colita has become the second artist in just over a week to reject an award from Spain’s Education and Culture Ministry this autumn amid discontent over government policies for the arts.

Angry artists snub prizes from 'indifferent' ministry
Musician and composer Jordi Savall turned the prize down saying the Spanish government had shown a "shocking indifference and complete incompetence" when it came to art. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

The photographic artist Colita announced on Friday that she would not accept the 2014 National Photography Prize, awarded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, due to her dissatisfaction with government policies in these areas.

The news comes just over a week after the musician Jordi Savall rejected the equivalent annual award in the field of music, also citing his sense of indignation with the performance of Popular Party (PP) Education and Culture Minister José Ignacio Wert.

Colita, born Isabel Steva Hernández in Barcelona in 1940, explained her decision to turn down the €30,000 prize ($37,400) in a letter directed to Wert. Stating that the "cultural panorama in Spain is pitiful,” Colita said: "I wish to express to you, Mr Wert, that as the said National Photography prize comes from the Ministry of Culture, Education and Sport, I feel obliged to reject it. I do not know where that ministry is located or even if it exists as such. In any case, it is unknown to me."  

Wert has become a sharply divisive figure in Spain, thanks in large part to his ministry’s education reform, which limited the use of regional languages and gave greater importance to religion while the government simultaneously reduced the budget for public schools as part of its austerity programme. It has become a regular occurrence at prize-giving ceremonies to see students or other individuals picking up awards refuse to shake hands with the minister.

Wert has courted controversy with comments about wishing to “Hispanise Catalan students” and playing down the idea that any “brain drain” caused by Spanish youngsters fleeing a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent was negative for the country.

He also defended the government’s decision to raise VAT on all cultural activities to 21 percent from seven percent.

In reference to the tension between Madrid and Barcelona over plans for a referendum on independence for the Mediterranean region, Colita said in her letter that her "condition as a Catalan" had nothing to do with the decision, which was purely a protest against the national government’s cultural outlook.

Savall, a Catalan musician famed for his mastery of the viol (or viola da gamba), besides being a conductor and composer, said he could not accept the National Music Prize in order “not to betray his deepest-held principles and convictions” with regard to the PP government’s "shocking indifference and complete incompetence in the defence and promotion of art and its creators”.  

In 2013 another Catalan musician, Josep Soler, rejected the Gold Medal of Merit from the Spanish government, also citing its “horrendous policies” in education and culture.

The previous year, the well-known novelist Javier Marías turned down the National Fiction Prize, although in his case the writer explained that he had always maintained that he would never accept awards from a state body in Spain.

Asked about the two recent rejections of cultural prizes, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría asked that “the recognition that Spain gives to its artistic and cultural values should be respected, as in any other state.”

But in her letter, Colita said that she was looking forward to "other times, other people and other governments to give our pride back to us and to them their honour".

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What are the best cities in Spain to see the Semana Santa processions?

Semana Santa or Holy Week is held in Spain during the run-up to Easter Sunday. Celebrations and parades take place all over the country, but there are some cities that go all out.

What are the best cities in Spain to see the Semana Santa processions?

Holy Week takes place this year from April 2nd to 9th, complete with passionate parades, music and elaborate religious floats. Andalusia and Castilla y León are where you’ll find the biggest and most impressive celebrations, although there are a few other standout towns and cities in other regions, including Castilla-La Mancha. 

Granada, Andalusia

If you’re really into Semana Santa and want to be able to watch non-stop parades all week, then the Andalusian city of Granada is the place to go. It was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest in 2009, along with the celebrations in Seville and Málaga. Some 32 brotherhoods take part in the Holy Week celebrations here, each hosting different parades on different days. One of the best parades here is held on Holy Wednesday when the Christ of the Gypsies float is carried through the streets of the gypsy district of  Sacromonte, filled with flamenco tablaos and cave homes. The hordes that follow the float sing saetas (religious flamenco songs) and recite poems along the way.

Seville, Andalusia

There’s no denying that Sevillanos love Semana Santa and there’s nowhere that celebrates it with quite as much fervour. Even during the lockdown during the pandemic in 2020 locals created mini processions out of paper and cardboard that could travel from balcony to balcony. The festival begins on Palm Sunday with the representation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem a few days before his death. There are around 60 brotherhoods that take part during the week. One of the most emotional parts of the processions in Seville are the saetas, flamenco songs about the Passion of Christ, which are usually spontaneously sung by locals.

Seville is one of the best cities in Spain to spend Semana Santa. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

Málaga, Andalusia 

The third city in the Holy Trinity of Semana Santa cities along with Seville and Granada is Málaga. One of the most unique aspects of the Holy Week celebrations here takes place on Holy Wednesday when every year one of the city’s prisoners is pardoned and released. The tradition dates back to the time of Carlos III when the prisoners, in protest against the cancellation of the processions due to an epidemic, opened the prison doors and carried the Jesús Nazareno statue through the streets on their shoulders, before returning to their cells.

Córdoba, Andalusia 

The maze of narrow streets around Córdoba’s Mezquita makes for an atmospheric setting for its 37 brotherhoods to parade through the city, along with clouds of incense and the soft flickering of candles. Unlike the loud passionate music accompanying the statues in some Spanish cities, many of the processions here are held in silence.

Penitents take part in a Holy Monday procession in Cordoba. Photo: François-Xavier MARIT / AFP

Zamora, Castilla y León 

The small city of Zamora, just north of Salamanca has been holding Holy Week celebrations since the 13th century. Processions take place during both the day and the night here, with daytime ones bringing lots of colour and music and nighttime ones solemn silence. Music is very important in the festival here with lots of choir singing and Gregorian chants.

Valladolid, Castilla y León

Another Castilla y León city to visit during Holy Week is Valladolid. There are 21 brotherhoods in Valladolid, the oldest of which, Vera-Cruz, dates back to the 15th century. The most important procession is the one on Good Friday, known as the General Procession of the Holy Passion of the Redeemer, which features statues by the famous baroque sculptor Gregorio Fernández.

Members of the “Siete Palabras” brotherhood take part in a Holy Week procession in Valladolid. Photo: Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP

Cartagena, Murcia

Many of the impressive processions in Cartagena take place at night or just at dawn, representing the pain and martyrdom of Christ. One of the most outstanding parades takes place on Holy Tuesday, when the city’s Marine Infantry and the army accompany the religious statues. Other must-see events include the Great Procession of the Cristo del Prendimiento de los Californios on Holy Wednesday and the Procession of the Santo Entierro de los Marrajos on Good Friday. Floats come adorned like in many cities with candles and flowers. 

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

Every year more than 30,000 people participate in the processions in the hilltop city of Cuenca in Castilla-La Mancha. The tradition of the parades here dates back to the 17th century. If you only have a few days to spend here, make sure your trip coincides with Good Friday and the impressive Camino del Calvario procession, which begins at 5:30 am, accompanied by bugles and drums.

The historic city of Cuenca makes for an atmospheric backdrop to celebrate Semana Santa. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

Cáceres, Extremadura

The city of Cáceres is located in Extremadura and is a great alternative to spending Semana Santa in Andalusia or Castilla y León. The city’s brotherhoods were founded in the 15th century and its Easter celebrations date back until this time. Its processions go through the historic centre, which adds to the beauty of the parades in such a stunning setting.