Though Spanish history may be filled with eclectic moments of cultural and artistic exchange, the early 20th-century remains a curiously shallow period in our collective memory. Following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the dissolution of the once-great empire sent a profound shock through the national psyche, leading to a period of restlessness among the country’s elite. According to most histories, this subdued and gloomy intellectualism—mostly associated with the male writers who made up the Generation of ‘98—would define Spain until the Civil War in 1936. Then came Franco, a dictator who oversaw Spain’s descent into fascism and repression until his ousting in 1978, at which point the country finally experienced its grand artistic, philosophical, and sexual revolution.
Maite Zubiaurre, a professor in Spanish modern and contemporary studies at UCLA, is working hard to disrupt this narrative, which she believes fails at capturing the progressive, sexually-experimental spirit of Spain in the first half of the 20th-century.
In a Huffington Post profile published earlier this week, Zubiaurre asks:
"What happened to all the vibrant social and cultural innovations that were taking the Western world by assault, particularly in the realm of sexuality and Eros? What about the rich printed and visual culture around homosexuality, androgyny and gay rights? What about the vigorous feminist and suffragists movements?"
The answer, she contends, isn't that Spain lacked these movements, but that we just don't know about them. And she's got explicit evidence to back up her claim: a published book featuring a "wealth of popular erotic materials that animated the urban life of Spain during the first half of the Twentieth Century, and which was later forcefully repressed and thus 'forgotten' during the Franco era."
The book, Cultures of the Erotic in Spain, 1898-1939, contains over 300 color illustrations — photography, magazine covers, advertisements, postcards—that all point to the early 20th-century proliferation of sicalipsis, a Spanish word for the erotic, burlesque, or even pornographic. The book also has a truly phenomenal companion website, which features a trove of visual images along with Silver Age literature on nudism, eugenics, genetics, and sexual education. We've included some of the most striking images below (warning: NSFW), though we highly recommend you take some time to explore the "Virtual Wunderkammer."
(Final warning: There is a photo of a Nun having sex below)
All images courtesy of A Virtual Wunderkammer: Early Twentieth Century Erotica in Spain