The Andalucia Show: from Almeria to Seville

Flag, fan and pennant in the regional green and white to celebrate Dia de Andalucia, 28 February.

My children with their flag, fan and pennant in the regional verde y blanco to celebrate Dia de Andalucia, 28 February. My daughter is proudly showing off her mixed heritage.

Children here in Andalucia are inculcated with a strong sense of regional pride right from the word go – they are Andaluces first, Spanish second (which leads to a sense of confusion about their identity, in the case of my Anglo-Andalusi children). They learn all about the culture, history, fiestas, famous figures, cuisine and geography of their region, which varies from desert to snow-covered mountains, from cork-oak forests to olive groves, from tidal marshes to sandy beaches, via Moorish cities and ancient sea ports.

This year, to celebrate Dia de Andalucia (28 February), my children’s school put on an exhibition about the entire region, province by province. Sections of corridors were magically transformed into colourful casetas in the Feria de Abril, patios in Cordoba, Cadiz beaches and Almerian hothouses.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the eight provinces of Andalucia as represented by three to 12-year-old Andaluzes, in products and pictures.

I haven’t captioned each photo – partly through sheer laziness and Alt Tag burnout; but also it means that you can try to guess each one’s contents (or, if you live here, ask your kids to) before reading the text for that province, which comes below its corresponding set of pictures. First up: Almeria.

Almeria invernadero

Almeria veg

Almeria skeletons kids

ALMERIA: Polytunnels, vegetables, spaghetti westerns and one of Spain’s most important archaeological sites.

Cadiz - atun de almadraba

Cadiz carnaval

CAdiz carnaval table

Cadiz entrance

Cadiz food 2

Cadiz piconeras

Cadiz playa

CADIZ: blue-fin tuna caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean using the traditional almadraba system of nets and boats; the Teatro de Falla and the Carnaval in Cadiz city (a masks and two kazoo: the one on the left is my son’s, from our recent trip); sherry, seafood and cheese; fishing nets; piconero/as (coalmen and women – new to me, that one) and, of course, La Playa (yes, that’s real sand)!

Cordoba -cruces, patio ,feria

CORDOBA: Las Cruces de Mayo (the cross of red flowers) and the Patios Festival (the little pots with their blooms on the wall).

Malaga food


Granada  Lorca

Granada Arabic stuff

Granada food

GRANADA: The Patio de los Leones in the Alhambra; bit foxed myself as to the second picture – possibly Conquest Day, commemorating when the Reyes Catolicos recaptured the city from the Moors, and the royal banner of Castille is carried through the city; Federico Garcia Lorca, with some books by the poet and playwright; Arabic clothes and objects; Granadan pastries.


zHuelva- El Rocio

HUELVA: A jamon (don’t miss the piggies on the front of the table); fish, prawns and other shellfish; El Rocio: dress, tambor (drum), mini-carreta, leather chaps, and the all-important leather riding boots to protect from mud, dust and wading through river fords.


JAEN: Land of liquid gold – olives, olives, and more olives.

Malaga food (2)


Malaga people  Banderas

Malaga sardinas

MALAGA: Pastries, olive oil and sweet wine; famous people, including Picasso and, the “Father of Andalucia”, Blas Infante, bottom left (but not Antonio Banderas, strangely); sardines on sticks.

Cordoba Sevilla

Sevilla Feria

Sev Feria table

Sev Betis baby

Sev cathedral model

Sev incense


Sev paso

Sev tapas list

SEVILLA: Inevitably, our provincial capital takes a starring role, both in the exhibition itself, and in this blog post. First we have the Feria caseta, complete with entrance (each one has its own name, number and design); the traditional painted table and chairs, plus jewellery, castanets and dress; a creepy-looking Betis baby, for the youngest football supporters; the cathedral; then we’re into Semana Santa, coming up in a few weeks: incense (smells very strong; my daughter hated it), nazarenos with a small cardboard DIY model of the Setas in front of them: more nazarenos, with their paso (float with statue of Jesus); and finally a list of tapas on a blackboard.

I never fail to be astonished and humbled by the huge amount of work which goes into these school shows, projects and exhibitions. The teachers and children obviously spent many hours preparing, assembling and presenting it (we had been asked to provide items from Seville and Cadiz provinces, hence the kazoo) and the finished effect looked quite spectacular.

Happy Andalucia Day, and congratulation to the staff and students!

Ai WeiWei in Seville: Resistance and Tradition in a 14th-century monastery

Ai Weiwei, CAAC, Sevilla, China, Chinese

The Chinese artist-activist has a strong Social Media presence, despite his government’s attempts to silence him. WeiWei won’t be at his exhibition; he’s not allowed to travel outside China.

Seville is a city which basks in its past glories. Mudejar architectural gems, endless churches built with the riches from the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries, religious paintings and portraits by the likes of Murillo, Zurbaran, Valdes Leal…  classical art from yesteryear is far more highly prized than today’s – in my opinion.

After living for ten years before I came here in London, home to some of the world’s greatest museums and galleries (I’m not being biased, it’s true), I’ve missed the opportunity to see world-class contemporary art here in Seville. Not that I was at Tate Modern every weekend while I lived in the city; you never appreciate what’s on your doorstep. (Excuses, excuses – too tired, the schlep, the tube, the cost, the weather…)

La Cartuija, CAAC, Ai Weiwei, monastery, Seville, Sevilla, Carthusian, Columbus

The Cartuja monastery in Seville, where the Ai WeiWei exhibition is being held. It used to be a ceramic factory, which segues perfectly with WeiWei’s passion for porcelain.

So it was with considerable excitement that I read about Ai WeiWei’s exhibition at the CAAC, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo, which happens to be 10 minutes from my house. This is WeiWei’s first ever museum exhibition in Spain, so it’s quite a coup for provincial Seville, winning out over cosmopolitan Madrid.

The CAAC is housed in a 14th-century Carthusian monastery, restored as headquarters for the 92 Expo. Its changing fortunes have seen the complex of buildings play host to Christopher Columbus as he planned his voyages; later, to the explorer’s remains; to Napoleon’s troops; and then to a ceramic factory founded by an Englishman called Charles Pickman.

Although the CAAC holds several exhibitions every year (the site is large enough to fit in three or four at once), I have to confess to acute laziness about visiting art shows unless I’ve already heard of the artist (I like to think my knowledge is about the same as any 40-something ex-Londoner media bod’s – reasonable).

Ai WeiWei, however, is in another league from the names normally appearing at this Andalucian contemporary art centre. He is hugely famous throughout the world, thanks to his insistence on standing up to the repressive Chinese government. A physically imposing man, broad and bearded, WeiWei has been imprisoned, placed under house arrest, beaten by police, accused of tax evasion, banned from the internet, and his studio has been demolished. His means of protest are digital, as well as tangible – he used to be a prolific blogger, and still uses Twitter (85,000+ tweets, in Chinese, nearly 200,000 followers).

After the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, which saw thousands of children die in collapsed school buildings constructed from sub-standard materials, WeiWei compiled a list of the dead students, with their names and ages – the government had refused to put a number on the total killed in the disaster – and was photographed standing in front of it. The artist brandishes the hidden, shameful truth in their face, taunting them. Another of his works is a video featuring people saying in various languages, “Fuck the Motherland”. Weiwei is a sharp and insistent thorn in the authorities’ side – more a ceremonial dagger, in fact. He loves to poke his captors (he’s not allowed out of China), tormenting them, jabbing them. Supremely provocative.

WeiWei’s defiance and stubbornness come across in much of his work, as does his respect for Chinese artisan techniques, and his ardent desire that they should not be lost. He wants to emphasise their social importance and aesthetic beauty compared to the mass-production of cheap plastic goods which flood out of China. The artist has his own kiln for creating ceramic pieces. But he’s also intrigued by the relationship between real and fake – how do we know which is which? Does it matter? Should art be about commercial value?

All these strands come together in this exhibition, from his love of porcelain, to his refusal to be gagged by the Chinese authorities.

sunflower seeds, Ai WeiWei, Chinese, China, porcelain, Tate Modern

The famous Sunflower Seeds – each one of the 3,300,000-odd is handpainted.

Most famous are the Sunflower Seeds, housed in the chapel just inside the church. These are raked into a perfect rectangle, protected behind a glass screen, with a line on the ground which you can’t cross to get a closer look. Result? You can’t see them – as each seed is hand-painted (saying each Chinese person is an individual, not part of a vast collective), all three million-odd of them, this is a shame. There’s a video made by Tate Modern – where they were first installed in the Turbine Hall (100 million) and could be walked, sat and lain on – showing how they’re made by thousands of people in a town in eastern China, each striped painted by hand. But not being able to look at them close-up, even a small sample in a glass box on the wall, is a shame. So here’s a sneak peek.

Ai WeiWei, sunflower seeds, contemporary art, CAAC, La Cartuja, Sevilla

A close-up of those tiny works of art – it took 1,600 people two and half years to paint them.

Descending Light, Ai WeiWei, China, Chinese, CAAC, La Cartuja, Sevilla

Descending Light looks like a Chinese dragon; its distorted shape reflects the grotesqueness of the Communist regime.

Although these “seeds” are the most famous part of the show, the most captivating, for me, was Descending Light. This is huge coiled lamp, like a collapsed snail, made from red glass beads strung onto a metal frame, with light bulbs inside. It took 12 people two weeks to assemble it, and how grateful we should be, as it is a stunning piece, perfectly positioned in the high-walled chapel with its soaring ceiling, and a shiny marble floor to reflect the lines of red light.

Ai WeiWei

Photos from the artist’s blog, before it was shut down by the Chinese government in 2009.

Continuing past this, on the left in the Sacristy, is a room with 12 screens, showing over 7,000 photos from WeiWei’s blog posts. These may seem random, but they give a good overview of WeiWei’s day-to-day life and interests – food, architecture, design, his own body (belly shots), his art, and his friends, fans and family. My favourite was a group of naked men, including the artist, jumping in the air, grinning like idiots, each with a Chinese zodiac animal’s head on the floor in front of him. The collection of animals, Zodiac Heads, is currently on a world tour.

Ai WeiWei, La Cartuja, CAAC, Sevilla

These vases (pre-paint) may or may not be 7,000 years old – you decide.

Two other works really stood out, for me. The first is the Colored Vases, which may or may not be neolithic, as they’re described – appropriately, they are displayed in the oldest part of the monastery, the Capilla de Magdalena. The old/new jars are dipped in industrial paint, each in different colours. Has he taken priceless antiquities and desecrated them? Or has he put his own mark on a piece of pottery, whatever its age, thereby creating another type of value? It’s an interesting conundrum, and makes the viewer think.

Ai Weiwei, Ghost Gu Coming Down the Mountain

The porcelain jars are painted so that they look different from every angle. Now you see Ghost Gu Coming Down The Mountain…

The last piece I’ll mention (there are further, less striking ceramic works, and videos – plenty more to enjoy than I can fit in here) is the room of painted jars, laid out nearly in rows; a collaboration with Romanian artist Serge Spitzer. The design is based on the popular story of a legendary warrior, Gu, who was sent on a mission to rescue another fighter.

It’s not until you walk all the way around them (“I tell people to read the panel, otherwise they just look and then walk out again,” said the lady guard, frustrated, although even the text doesn’t explain the trick clearly) that you see the artists’ ruse. The jars are painted with a progressively wider vertical band of design as you walk along the rows, so that from one corner they seem entirely painted, while from another they are perfectly, plainly white, and between there are degrees.

Ai WeiWei, Ghost Gu Coming Down the Mountain

…now you don’t.

Chinese artesan production is also disappearing, little by little, he seems to be telling us, bringing the impending loss of centuries of tradition to our attention. It’s very clever, and I’d love to take my kids to see these jars, although I’d be terrified they’d break one. We can’t look at the seeds close-up, but we can risk kicking a china vase. Hmm.

WeiWei is a dissident for the digital age, who hasn’t lost sight of his country’s history – he’s looking back as well as forwards. If you’re as intrigued as I was by this extraordinarily brave, headstrong man, then don’t miss the award-winning 2012 documentary about him, Never Sorry, now showing at Seville’s only VO cinema, but also available on DVD. His personal life is unconventional, and the footage (only audio, but still shocking) of him being attacked in his hotel room in the middle of the night by police, is undeniably powerful. Go see.

Ai WeiWei: Resistance and Tradition is at the CAAC, La Cartuja, Sevilla, until 23 June. It is open Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 9pm, Sunday 11am-3pm (closed Monday), and costs 1.80 euro. Entry is free Tuesday to Friday 7pm-9pm, and all day Saturday.