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History, Art, and Culture Combine in Barcelona Field Class

The Spanish Language and Culture in Translation class pauses at Fossar de les Moreres, a tribute to the Catalonians who died during the War of the Spanish Succession.

The ability to combine in-port experiences, hands-on learning, leading international experts, and current real-world events has always been a hallmark of Semester at Sea. And for the Fall 2017 Voyage’s first port, Barcelona, the timing of the MV World Odyssey‘s visit could not have been more opportunistic.

This history between the Catalonia region (of which Barcelona is the most prominent city) and Madrid has always been contentious, and the latest development is an impending referendum in which Catalonians will vote whether or not to declare themselves independent from the rest of Spain.

The upcoming October vote was the perfect backdrop for Dr. Maria Lopez-CabralesSpanish Language, Literature, and Culture in Translation Field Class. On the second day of Fall 2017’s two-day stay in Barcelona, Cabrales and a local guide led students on a walking tour that combined history, current events, and art.

“Since it’s a class about politics and social movements, activist movements, I wanted them to apply some of the concepts we are analyzing in the class to a practical thing, that is the art,” said Cabrales, who teaches Latin American and Spanish Culture and Literature at Colorado State University. “And since he is one of the most well known political artists, I thought it was a great opportunity to be in Barcelona and the Picasso museum.”

An evening seminar just before students disembarked in Spain by Ellie Moseman (also of Colorado State University) provided important context to Picasso’s role in the Catalonian independence movement. Dr. Moseman discussed Picasso’s famous painting Guernica, which depicts the bombing of the town of Guernica by the Nazi party and is one of the most vivid representations of the conflict between the independent spirit of Catalan and Federalist Spain.

Guernica hangs in Madrid, not Barcelona, but students in Cabrales’ class were still able to learn plenty about Picasso’s life and activism. The Las Meninas series of 58 paintings, which hangs in the Picasso Museum, in particular shows how Picasso subverted to traditionally held notions of power. The series offers Picasso’s take on the Diego Vasquez painting of the same name by altering the depiction of the royal family to unrecognizable lengths.

After the tour of the Picasso museum, Voyagers were led on a guided tour throughout the streets of Barcelona, where they talked about important buildings and monuments, and spent time observing the street art and graffiti of the city.

Students saw the Estelada flag, a symbol of Catalan independence, hanging hanging throughout the city during their walking tour.

“We’ve only had a few classes, but we mostly talked about the conflict and the Catalonians wanting to be independent,” said Carrie Eheaume of Johnson State College. “I think walking through the city is the best way you’re going to learn about Spanish culture. It was pretty relevant because it’s a current event, and you could see it walking through the streets of Barcelona.”

Photos and videos are not allowed in the Picasso museum, but Will Schweinfurth, a photography major from Oregon State University, was able to use the street art he saw around the city to gain more of a understanding into Barcelona.

“The things I was most interested and took the most photos of today were the stickers and graffiti,” Schweinfurth said. “There seems to be a pretty big feminist movement here as well. I saw a lot of feminist stickers, a lot of pro-female graffiti. It was interesting.”

“I thought it was really good to do a field class right away, because now we all know each other,” Schweinfurth added, before looking ahead to the rest of the voyage. “Because it’s a Spanish class, I think it’s going to be interesting to see how the course changes for the other places we go to.”

  • Arts
  • Culture
  • History
  • Life on Land

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