Spain under Franco
About this link room
In this Link Room, we dig deeper into the work of Bebe Blanco Agterberg (The Netherlands, 1995), drawing connections to Spanish history as well as the work of two peers: Lucia Higuera (Spain, 1992) and Ignacio Navas (Spain, 1989). Additionally, we connect to relevant portfolios and articles from the Foam Magazine archive. Throughout this article, you find links that lead to contextualising articles, podcasts, videos and websites.
The goal of Link Room is to contextualise the works exhibited at Foam within the digital space, offer a wider perspective on the themes central to the exhibitions and draw connections with other, emerging, artists.
The initial concept of a link room was created by Foam Lab in 2015. As such, this Link Room is the online sequel of the physical link room that was curated and organised at Foam by the Foam Lab members.
A bit of history
Spain was ruled under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco for almost 40 years, until his death in 1975. The Franco regime went from being openly fascist to authoritarian over the years. In the first decade of his rule (1939 - 1959), repression and political persecution by the military was common. The Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS was the only authorized political party of Spain, all others were suppressed or tightly controlled. The expression of cultural diversity was also kept at bay. Catholic beliefs and Castilian Spanish were established as the regime’s main pillars and no other languages or religions were taught in school.
This cultural policy relaxed after the Second World War (1959-1975), when Franco became an ally for the US in its fight against communism, ending its political isolation and receiving financial aid in return. From then until Franco’s death, Spain opened to international markets and political organisations, but it maintained its repressive whiff in politics, suppressing protests and dissent.
Once Franco died in 1975, both left- and right-wing parties agreed not to address the crimes that had been committed during the Franco regime. They were seeking to avoid a renewed confrontation and revenge about the past. This agreement was called Pacto del Olvido (Pact of Forgetting) and was backed by an official pardon referenced by a party deputy as ‘’the only way to keep holding hands without resenting’’. Though painful and uncomfortable, the past went silent. Collective amnesia took over and Franco’s social legacy – as well as its monuments – were left standing.
However, the 1990s saw a transformation. Many of the family members whose loved ones were imprisoned, tortured and disappeared during the dictatorship, and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) that led Franco to power, raised their voices. The wound could no longer be ignored. Since then, a new generation of historians, writers, filmmakers and visual artists have begun to discuss this repressed history in their works, looking to trace the afterlife of the dictatorship in their cityscapes, traditions and national symbols.
A mal tiempo, buena cara
Bebe Blanco Agterberg is one of the artists who addresses Franco’s social legacy through her series A mal tiempo, buena cara. The title of her series refers to a Spanish saying, which translates to ‘in bad weather, (put on a) good face’. In the context of this project, the saying urges to remain critical of who claims power in moments of hardship. Bebe asks the question: in times of crisis, who do you trust?
The series grew out of Bebe's search for her own family history, sparked by the story of her Spanish mother who, for unknown reasons, was separated from her biological parents and given up for adoption as a baby in the 1960s. Soon, Bebe found out that her mother’s story was similar to that of other children during the Franco regime, and that little material could be found. The evidence had been mostly obscured by the Pact of Forgetting. This gap in the collective memory of Spain, however, provoked Bebe and inspired this three-year visual research on memory, truth and forgetting.
Central to Bebe's work is the reconstruction and manipulation of memory. Her series consists of multiple layers, which combines different approaches.
In the first approach, Bebe looked for visual remnants of the Franco regime and photographed them in a documentary photographic manner. An example is the image of the ‘shrapnel-scarred’ house. Captured by the famous photographer Robert Capa during the Civil War, Bebe revisited the house, which still bears memory of this past through its plastered bullet holes.
Realising that this only showed a selective part of the story, Bebe shifted her approach and started to interview people that carried memories of the Francoist era. From this collection of oral histories, Bebe acted as a director, carefully staging and re-enacting these memories in front of her camera. The image of the men holding the poles is based on the memories of two men in Almonte. As part of a local religious event, called Romería de El Rocío, they were carrying their emblem of the Virgin del Rocío (Holy Mother) to the shrine, at midnight during the Almonte Rosary ceremony. What they did not know is that simultaneously to the religious event crimes committed by Francoist perpetrators were happening close by. Only later, they saw that the religious event was used as a distraction.
The distinct visual style of her images—clean, black-and-white—merges the different approaches and refers to the classic documentary photography that Bebe encountered in her extensive study of archive images. Choosing this specific style, she wants to play with the common belief that archives store truthful records of the past. Through her photography, Bebe points out that this is not always the case and that archival material can be manipulated or censored. The staged effect of her images is enhanced through artificial lighting, making them look more appealing and credible. Bebe invites the viewer throughout her series to question what is true or not, and in general, how truthful images can be.
🔗 Ignacio Navas & Lucia Higuera
Bebe Blanco Agterberg's work can be linked to that of two peers: Ignacio Navas (Spain, 1989) and Lucia Higuera (Spain, 1992). Both artists address the legacy of Francoist Spain from different angles.
Lucia Higuera examines the remnants of the dictatorial past in present life rituals and behaviours. Ignacio Navas turns its gaze to the Spanish flag and ponders on the different meanings Franco's regime assumes in the private and public display of this national symbol.
Their crisp monochromatic images present silent - yet dramatic - scenarios. Scenarios which hark back to the analogue and journalistic snapshots that inform their research, blurring the boundaries between events, recreations and imaginations.
Nadar y guardar la ropa (2010 - ongoing)
by Ignacio Navas
"In Spain, there is a complex relationship with the national flag. It is a symbol that evokes a broad range of emotions: from enthusiasm to shame, from pride to pain."
"Since Franco’s Dictatorship, the current colours of the national flag have become a symbol of the right-wing parties, in opposition to the Second Republican Flag, a left-wing icon. The flag wasn’t significantly present in citizens’ lives and was used mainly in official institutions. Displaying the flag or wearing a garment with its colours was understood as a strong political statement in support of right-wing ideology."
"Following the historical performance of the Spanish football team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, many citizens from all political spectrums hung Spanish flags on their balconies in celebration. At that time, we thought that we had finally reconciled ourselves with this national symbol. However, the presence of the flag in our daily lives was short-lived. Soon, setting up a flag and singing the national anthem became associated with right-wing politics again."
"If we pay attention to the manner and places where these flags are hung, we find a precise radiography of the national feeling, a deep metaphor of our tangled idea of patriotism. Nadar y guardar la ropa is a Spanish saying that can be roughly translated to: 'You cannot have your cake and eat it too'. A saying that, for me, summarises the ambivalent relationship we have with our flag and which I present in my photographs through a series of loose interactions between individuals, events, and spaces."
Todo (2021 - 2022)
by Lucia Higuera
"Todo is a project that combines new and archival material, seeking to connect the past and the present through the mixture of different types of imagery. I have done so with the wish of exploring the lingering memory of fascism in contemporary Spain, a memory that has either been hidden behind thick walls of silence and shame or erased entirely."
"In the creation of the series, I have looked out for images and objects present in both family and official archives that I feel have a direct connection to this memory. I was fascinated by what I found along the way, and I spent hours recollecting diverse materials: from coins and pins to magazines and state propaganda. Some of my resulting images look into the religious symbols and rituals that were at the core of Franco's fierce catholic nationalism. Others assume a more metaphorical role, wishing to represent the power, death and suffering brought forth by the Spanish civil war (1936-1939) and the dictatorship that came after."
"In the process, I have realised Spain has forgotten its past several times - sometimes willingly, sometimes forcefully – and many facts and truths in Spanish history remain ambiguous and intrinsically shaped by present ideologies and conflicts. Yet this memory is ever present; in its landscape, in its imagery, in society, in family, and even in myself."
🔗 Foam Magazine
Zooming out, we realise that the topics of truth-finding and -questioning, as well as the manipulation of collective memory are very much present outside the context of Francoist Spain. In the past, Foam Magazine featured many captivating portfolios of artists that deal with these topics in their own ways, be it by looking at photography archives, contemporary media or imagery used and produced for political campaigns.
Foam Magazine #48: Propaganda, for instance, features Whitewash by Harit Srikhao: a series made in response to the violent riot in Thailand in 2010 and the political situation since. This work by Srikhao links to the use of photography for social control and questions how governments can enforce a national narrative or shared reality on its subjects.
Shown in Foam Magazine #59: Histories, the work of Tavares Strachan comments on the selective process of historical recording; on who writes history and what they deem worth remembering. For his project The Encyclopedia of Invisibility he reconstructed the Encyclopaedia Britannica and added 15,000 entries on marginalised or overlooked historical events, places and individuals, that had been excluded or overseen in the original books.
Theatre of Broken Memories
A selection of Bebe Blanco Agterberg's series A mal tiempo, buena cara was shown in the exhibition Foam 3H: Theatre of Broken Memories, which was on show at Foam 3H until 5 March 2023.
About the artists
Bebe Blanco Agterberg is a visual storyteller based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She examines history and the reliability of the image in the post-truth era, which forms a grey area where fact and fiction live close to each other. This is the area where Agterberg positions herself. In 2022, she was the sixth recipient of the Florentine Riem Vis Grant.
Ignacio Navas is a photographer based in Madrid. In his work he researches the social, political and economic structures that shape daily life affairs. His images and publications have been presented as part of solo and collective exhibitions in Spain, England, Guatemala and Colombia. In 2022 he was nominated by PhotoEspaña to become part of the Futures platform. His works feature in Exit, ABC and Clavoardiendo Magazines, amongst others. Along with six other photographers he currently runs El Local, a new independent space for photography in Madrid.
Lucia Higuera is a mixed media artist based in Madrid. In her work she seeks to create a dialogue between archival and contemporary images. She recently obtained her MA in Photography at the University of the West of England. Her Todo series was chosen as finalist in Paris Photo’s Carte Blanche 2022 competition. Her works have also featured in Fisheye Magazine and Fast Forward Women Gallery.
Bebe Blanco Agterberg - Theatre of Broken Memories is made possible by the Van Bijlevelt Foundation, the Leeuwensteinstichting and Kleurgamma Fine-Art Photolab.
Foam is supported by the VriendenLoterij, Foam Members, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, the VandenEnde Foundation and Gemeente Amsterdam.