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September|October 2005

Homage to Catalonia

WHEN SPAIN APPROVED THE CONSTITUTION of the European Union last spring, it tried to present a picture of unity to the outside world. But Spain is also home to several of Europe's most active separatist movements. In Catalonia and in the Basque territory, citizens have long campaigned for autonomy and cultural recognition. While the Basque struggle has been violent, Catalan nationalists have used art more than explosives in their effort.

The Catalan Republic declared its self-rule in 1932, and the region's sense of identity remained strong even when the dictator Francisco Franco put an end to Catalan autonomy seven years later. In 1948, two of Spain's best-known artists, Antoni Tápies and Joan Brossa, founded the artistic and literary group Dau al Set (meaning seven-faced die), which published a journal of the same name that helped to promote Catalan art and culture during the political suppression that followed Franco's takeover of the region.

Tápies, who was born in 1923 in Barcelona and has created a large body of paintings, posters, and sculptures, is recognized for his use of mixed media and for the integration of political expression into his art. To pay homage to his heritage, he has often included the yellow and red stripes of the Catalan flag in his pieces. The symbolism of the work is in the eye of the beholder, but his 1988 print Llibertat, or "Freedom" in Catalan, shows his ability to meld modern art with political ideals.

In Catalonia there is currently strong opposition to the European Constitution; it's no surprise that this culture, still fighting for greater representation in the Spanish parliament, is reluctant to submerge itself in a United States of Europe. That problem might seem small for a continent in which entire countries, like France and the Netherlands, have recently rejected the E.U. Constitution. But it raises a question that has yet to be answered with either car bombs or paintings: Can Europe be unified if its nations haven't resolved the divisions within their borders?


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