About Isabel Segura Soriano


Clotilde Cerdà, between music and social activism

Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

Clotilde Cerdà in Havana, wearing the cap of the city fire brigade.
Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

During the final third of the 19th century, feminist and anti-slavery thoughts and actions could have consequences. The composer and harpist Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch, daughter of the painter Clotilde Bosch and her husband Ildefons Cerdà, experienced it firsthand.

Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch was born in Barcelona either in 1861, according to the civil register, or in 1862, according to a diary entry by her father, Ildefons Cerdà. It is said, however, that the architect of Barcelona’s Eixample district was not in fact her biological father; although he acknowledged that she was his daughter and gave her his surname, he excluded her from his 1864 will and testament, written the same year in which his marriage to Clotilde Bosch broke down.

Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

Clotilde Cerdà playing harp, aged six.
Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

At 15 years of age and already a celebrity, internationally renowned for her harp concerts — and known by the stage name Esmeralda Cervantes —, Clotilde Cerdà arrived in Cuba via New York and Philadelphia, where she had performed at the international exhibition in 1876. Cuba’s first war of independence had broken out; it was not the best context for musical events, so the Captain General of the island, Joaquín Jovellar Soler, recommended that she postpone after hearing of her intentions to visit. But Clotilde paid him no heed, performing at Havana’s most important theatre, the Teatro Tacón. She wanted to go to Cienfuegos but was stopped because the trip was deemed too risky. Performances aside, she also befriended members of the independence movement who were for a republic and against slavery. Enrique Trujillo, a member of the Spanish-American Literary Society, founded in New York by the Cuban writer José Martí, introduced the harpist to the movement. “In her, the cause of Cuban independence found a powerful ally”, he wrote. The Spanish Government was lying in wait, but for the time being it left the harp player alone.

Providing a “bright education” for women

The wait continued when in 1883, on her return to Barcelona — where two years previously she had gained the loyalty of a masonic lodge —, she began the process of creating an educational centre specifically for women, with the aim of offering them a “bright education, focused more on the practical than on the theoretical”. Its purpose was to provide women with access to training and to demand their right to professional work. Thus, two years later, the Academy of Sciences, Arts and Offices for Women (ACAOM) was born at No. 10 La Rambla. Clotilde Cerdà surrounded herself with women who already had successful careers and recognised standing, such as the poet Josepa Massanés, the doctor Dolors Aleu i Riera — the first female medical doctor in Spain — and the journalist and novelist Antònia Opisso, a key member of the academy’s organigram.

Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

Clotilde Cerdà with students at her academy, 1885.
Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

The project — created, funded and managed by women — was very well received. The number of students was growing day by day. Attendance to the evening classes reached 270 and no more applications could be accepted owing to the small size of the centre. A year after its inauguration they set out to construct a brand-new building that would meet the spatial and organisational needs of the academy.

At the same time, the academy’s secretary, Antònia Opisso, published Diario de un deportado (Diary of a deportee), a novel in a diary format. The novel’s protagonist and supposed author was Carlos Atregui, a Cuban resident who was deported to Spain after being accused of holding anti-slavery and independence-related beliefs. Through this work, Antònia Opisso took part in the debate regarding slavery, which was still being practiced despite an international agreement prohibiting it. The writer openly declared herself to be opposed to slavery through the words of her protagonist: “I’m an abolitionist”.

Royalist threat

In search of money to expand the academy, Clotilde planned a trip to the United States to seek the funding she had been unable to find in Barcelona or elsewhere on the Spanish peninsula. Since 1st January 1887 she had known that certain royalist sectors were not only refusing to support the continuation of the project but were expressly opposing it. Conde Morphy, a count and secretary to the Queen Regent of Spain, María Cristina, said in a letter: “I thought that you aspired to play the harp very well or even to be a great artist, […] but then one day you appear in Cuba, as if wanting to solve the problem of slavery through your influence and presiding over demonstrations and meetings that have nothing to do with art. And now I see you setting yourself up as defender of the Catalan working classes and the education of women.” He went on to recommend/order that she keep quiet; if she did not, she would have to face the consequences. It was a bona fide threat: “If the newspapers print nonsense, do not pay them any heed, nor involve yourself in making accusations, nor take on responsibilities or give any advice without sufficient knowledge of the issue at hand because if you do, the result will be counterproductive.”

Conde Morphy’s threat materialised. The Academy of Sciences, Arts and Offices for Women had to close down owing to a lack of support and its budgetary deficit. On 29th March 1887 Clotilde Cerdà made the academy’s accounts public: “The difference between the deficit (12,960) and the amount remaining to be paid (3,750) has been settled by the Director.” Clotilde went into exile, accompanied by her inseparable mother.

European exile

The harpist and activist wandered half of Europe, without a fixed abode anywhere. On 1st October 1888 Jacint Verdaguer, a Catalan writer and poet, wrote: “I watched with great sorrow the setbacks that eventually took her away from her homeland; but remember, we are all exiles in this world.”

Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

Cover of a pamphlet with the lecture she gave at the Chicago World Fair in 1893, on women in Turkey, under her artistic pseudonym.
Photo: Album of Clotilde Cerdà i Bosch. Biblioteca de Catalunya

From Constantinople, where she was invited to play a concert and where they wouldn’t let her leave, Clotilde — sitting on “soft ottomans, on the terrace covered in vines” — wrote to Víctor Balaguer, a politician and author, on 22nd September 1892: “My friend, I founded the Academy of Sciences, Arts and Offices for Women and, as if I had founded a school of bad habits, so everything bad was unleashed upon me. With a loss of 22,000 pesetas I closed it and took flight to countries where I would be appreciated and paid my worth.”

The academy lasted for barely two years, but it was not the only failing. The women’s conference that was to be held in Palma never took place either. La Ilustración de la Mujer (The Enlightenment of Women) magazine, for which Clotilde wrote at least one article, would also be short-lived. All these projects, which created spaces for discussion and training, with a view to improving living conditions for women and men, and for participating in social development from a female — or why not say feminist? — perspective, were shut down.

The threats and her exile did not stop her. When she was in Turkey, Clotilde Cerdà was invited to the World’s Columbian Exposition, to be held in Chicago in 1893, to give a talk on the education of women in the East. She went and spoke about the Education and Literature of the Women of Turkey. As part of the exposition she also played in a concert conducted by Theodore Thomas and in a private performance for the President of the United States, Stephen Grover Cleveland, and his wife, Frances Folsom.

Her journey continued to Brazil, where she became the delegate for the international peace association Alliance Universelle des Femmes Pour la Paix (Universal Women’s Alliance for Peace) and where her mother died and was buried in the city of Belém do Pará. From there, Clotilde moved to Mexico, giving music lessons in the capital’s conservatoire; she had already stopped performing in concerts. Later, she returned to Barcelona and, in 1915, she settled permanently in Tenerife, where she died in 1926.

Clotilde Cerdà was not an exception. As Christine de Pisan said in the 15th century, we would find more women like her if we took the trouble to look for them.

The symbolic construction of peripheral housing estates

Photo: Oriol Maspons / College of Architects of Catalonia.
Picture from a commissioned photographic essay on the Montbau district’s early period in the early 1960s, which sought to tell a story from a perspective of unbiased realism. The district was designed by the Municipal Housing Board to alleviate homelessness resulting from the large influx of immigrants at that time.

The waves of immigrants from the middle of the 20th century made poor outlying neighbourhoods a disturbing reality at a time when immigration was seen as a problem to be solved through public assistance. To what extent does the stigmatisation associated with peripheral neighbourhoods persist?

A few days ago I was looking through and admiring some photographs in an archive. They were pictures of the Montbau district in the early 1960s. Modern architecture, a model district, urbanistically speaking. Modernity that photographers who were themselves modern liked to emphasise. Needless to say, all the pictures that I looked at on that day were taken by well-known photographers hired by the architects who designed the district, the builders who built it or in some cases the government agency that developed it. In this case, the Municipal Housing Board.

The photographs capture the façades of new and exemplary blocks of flats built during the first phase of the district’s construction. There were also the public squares, wonderful squares that are still vital neighbourhood centres, the places that almost all local streets lead into.

But what where the homes like? I wanted to see their interiors, especially the kitchens – areas that iconographers, except for advertisers, have all but forgotten. I spent many, many hours looking through and admiring photographs. But what about the people? They were nowhere to be seen. Finally a sequence, a kind of essay, showed a man moving a mattress. The pictures tracked him until he unloaded it inside a building. The room could not be clearly seen, but in the middle of the picture were a man and a woman amidst a jumble of furniture, mattresses and various strewn about utensils. I was fixated. Finally I had found someone who would be one of the district’s future tenants.

Photo: Oriol Maspons / College of Architects of Catalonia.
Picture from a commissioned photographic essay on the Montbau district’s early period in the early 1960s, which sought to tell a story from a perspective of unbiased realism. The district was designed by the Municipal Housing Board to alleviate homelessness resulting from the large influx of immigrants at that time.

I heard a voice that said to me: “These photographs are a farce.” What? “They’re a farce,” repeated the voice with the same strength and softness. It was the voice of Fernando Marzà, head of the Historical Archive of the College of Architects. I stopped looking at photos. I was more interested in what Fernando had to say: “The neighbourhood’s residents don’t recognise themselves in these pictures.” The guy telling me this lives in Montbau.

That comment stuck in my head for a few days. I rifled through some papers and found some texts that went with the photos. “These caves, these huts, these impure hotchpotches, origin of the most catastrophic destruction of the family spirit, morbid destroyer of the essence of the species,” the authorities said at the time. The Municipal Housing Board, for its part, drove home the message in these terms: “To house innumerable families living today in deplorable conditions that bring about an amorality that we dare not even describe.” It would not be possible to paint a more disturbing portrait of the future inhabitants of those modern districts. And in the case of Montbau, the Board took pains to make it a socially mixed district and keep it from becoming “red”.

An amoral subject

Despite the architectural modernity, the discursive articulation of the photography, texts and official reports, the inhabitants of peripheral neighbourhoods were depicted as living on top of each other and the overcrowding was said to produce amorality. These people were thus amoral.

Through the tension, in the struggle to define the Barcelona of the 1950s and 1960s, such pictures were intended to offer the appearance of realism, of unbiased discourse. It was the same semblance of realism awarded to Donde la ciudad cambia de nombre (Where the city changes its name; 1957), by Paco Candel, set in the Cases Barates (Cheap Houses) district of Can Tunis, another of the housing estates built during the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in 1929.

Candel’s work was not lost on the residents of the district and their reaction did not leave the author unscathed: “To the angry Cases Barates. One day they wanted to lynch me,”1 he later wrote in the novel Han matado a un hombre, han roto un paisaje (They have killed a man and ruined a landscape) published in 1959.

Who is Barcelona?

Are the inhabitants of peripheral neighbourhoods Barcelonians?

Those in the housing estates are all migrants, regardless of whether or not they really are. In Barcelona, most of us are migrants; first, second or third generation. Since Barcelona demolished its city walls – many, many years ago – it has grown thanks to the contributions of newcomers and others born in the city who ended up moving from one district to another: from Sants to Montbau, from Sant Andreu to La Guineueta, from El Raval to Can Tunis, etc.

” The vast majority of Barcelona’s population are first, second or third generation migrants. “

The pictures of migrants not from the city that have been most widely distributed, apart from the pictures of the migrants themselves, show them carrying highly inelegant suitcases, ready to burst open. We often forget that migration, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, was fuelled by both economics and politics. People leaving their place of origin for fear of retaliation, due to their Republican allegiance, or those who could not find work because of their political leanings. And people who, in some cases, arrived with professional training and experience that industry (especially the textile industry) made profitable use of. An image that persisted about migrants was that they were always men; they were the first to arrive. Several studies have pointed out that this was not always true. I would particularly mention the brilliant study by Clara-Carmen Parramon entitled Similituds i diferències. La immigració dels anys 60 a l’Hospitalet (Similarities and differences. 1960s’ immigration in Hospitalet). This work sheds light on migratory behaviour by community of origin and shows that in many cases women were the first to migrate.

Immigration was a problem. “An overall negative phenomenon […] the economic and social status of the vast majority of newcomers is much lower than that of local residents”, wrote Jordi Pujol in 1965 in a special edition of the architectural magazine Cuadernos de arquitectura that focused on districts. Migrants were “a concern” that had to be addressed through “assistance”, in the words of the author, and not through the recognition of their rights.

The reluctance to consider them as Barcelonians did not just apply to the first generation; it also applied to their children, who were branded with the pejorative term xarnego even when they had a Catalan parent.

But not in all cases. It would have been problematic to use such a term to describe someone with the compound surname Muñoz Ramonet as in the case of Julio Muñoz Ramonet. The son of an Andalusian father and a Catalan mother and one of the most important textile barons of the Francoist period, he died in Switzerland to avoid being jailed for tax fraud. Being considered as either a migrant or a xarnego had to do with one’s economic level, not with one’s geographical origins.

Disturbing housing estates

Peripheral neighbourhoods have always been a source of disturbing news for both specialised and general publications. They could have been and may today be considered an architectural or urban planning problem; they could have been or may be a problem of assimilation, behaviour, drugs – yes, yes, of selling drugs, of sex, of rock and roll – but a problem to be sure.

The peripheral housing estate was “a disease, a public disease of immense proportions,” as written in the magazine Tele/Estel on 18 November 1966. Geographical accuracy was not of importance when discussing behaviour considered inappropriate for a citizen of Barcelona. The term suburbi (slum/housing estate) did not always refer to a specific area. It was a construct, a discursive utterance.

What bargaining power did these people have with images that depicted them in a particular way?

Photo: Ginés Cuesta / Historical Archive of Roquetes-Nou Barris.
Madame Gertrudis in her tidy kitchen in the Cases del Governador housing estate, as photographed by her neighbour Ginés Cuesta.

Photo: Kim Manresa / Historical Archive of Roquetes-Nou Barris.
Local residents as political actors in a picture by Kim Manresa from the late 1970s.

Actor and photographer Ginés Cuesta, a resident of the slum of Les Corts, who later moved to the Les Cases del Governador housing estate in the Verdun district, took pictures of a neighbour of his, Madame Gertrudis, in the kitchen/dining room of her home. It was a kitchen/dining room that, despite its small size, was not at all cluttered or crowded. Ginés Cuesta portrayed Madame Gertrudis without dishonesty. There they shared “a community of meaning”, in the words of Martha Rosler. Kim Manresa, another photographer and resident of the city outskirts, produced pictures of his neighbours that showed them as actors in a political setting, if we understand politics to consist of being with and acting amongst others.

From Sant Adrià, Javier Pérez Andújar wrote Paseos con mi madre (Walks with my mother; 2011): “You cannot have a close relationship with Barcelona if your ancestors did not.”

To what extent do the stigmas assigned to the inhabitants of peripheral neighbourhoods persist? What mechanisms perpetuate them? Who or what do these neighbourhoods threaten? And finally, how do these stigmas affect the lives of the residents of the districts?