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Mural in Madrid that celebrates women pitched into Spain's culture wars

Sam Jones in Madrid
·2-min read

A mural in Madrid celebrating a diverse array of women from Nina Simone and Rosa Parks to Frida Kahlo and the Red Army sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko has become the latest front in Spain’s culture war after the far-right Vox party led efforts to have it removed because of its “political message”.

The 60-metre (197ft) mural, which bears the slogan “Your ability doesn’t depend on your gender”, was commissioned by the local council in the Ciudad Lineal neighbourhood and painted on the wall outside a sports centre in 2018.

Other famous faces included in the artwork are the tennis player Billie Jean King, the veteran civil rights campaigner and academic Prof Angela Davis, the cosmonaut and politician Valentina Tereshovka and the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Last Thursday, Vox councillors told a council meeting that the mural contained “a political message” and should be replaced with one related to sport.

Vox’s efforts, which have been backed by the conservative People’s party (PP) and the centre-right Citizens party, were successful, and the council voted to replace the women’s faces with a mural honouring male and female Paralympians.

The decision prompted protests outside the sports centre on Sunday as residents turned out to show their support for the artwork, and an online petition to save the mural had attracted almost 50,000 signatures by Monday lunchtime.

Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, also weighed in, tweeting on Friday: “The feminist struggle for equality has left an indelible mark on our history. It’s a battle we’ll keep fighting across all areas until we ensure that women can live freely and equally.”

Madrid’s PP mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, rejected suggestions that the decision to remove the mural was “an attack on feminism”, saying it was in fact proof of democracy in action.

“The decision to remove it is as democratic as the decision was to paint it,” he said. “This mural wasn’t there a few years ago and then the council took a decision during a meeting. Was that democratic? Yes. Is it democratic to now agree to remove it? Yes it is.”

Martínez-Almeida said it was reasonable to celebrate Paralympians – “both men and women”, and criticised Sánchez for commenting on the removal of the mural and not “those murals that glorify terrorists in the Basque country”.

Jorge Nuño, a member of the Unlogic collective that created the mural, said the piece was simply a recognition of the achievements of the 15 women it featured.

Nuño said he was struggling to understand the controversy, telling the online newspaper ElDiario he could not fathom how, “in the middle of a pandemic and following an awful snowstorm, councillors are debating a mural that’s been on the wall of a sports centre for three years”.

He added: “Art doesn’t create problems – petty thinking does.”