The ongoing dispute in Spain between ultra-conservative groups and defenders of creative freedom has flared up once again over the play Dios tiene una vagina (or, God has a vagina). On Sunday afternoon, a group of Catholics prayed with rosary beads outside the performance venue at the Matadero cultural center in Madrid to protest against the production, which they argue disrespects the tradition of Easter.
The performance went ahead as planned but the dispute did not end there. The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers has said it will file a complaint against Madrid City Hall and the creators of the work for offending religious sentiment – the same charge the group brought against Spanish actor Willy Toledo.
Willy Toledo case
The Spanish Association of Christian lawyers also accused Spanish actor Willy Toledo of "offending religious sentiment" over a post on Facebook in 2017, in which he expressed his indignation over a court probe into three women in Seville who, in 2014, paraded a large model of a vagina through the city streets, in an imitation of a religious procession, dubbing it the "coño insumiso," or "Insubordinate pussy."
Speaking to Spanish news agency EFE in April, Toledo said that it was “outrageous” that an “ultra-fundamentalist Catholic association such as the Association of Christian Lawyers could, in the present day, file a lawsuit for blasphemy, as if we were in the Middle Ages.” The law that covers religious sentiment, he added, was “anti-democratic” given that it “stops atheists from expressing their opinions.” “I am an atheist and I don’t believe in the virginity nor the sanctity of the Virgin Mary,” the actor added, stating that he would continue to think the same way even if he ends up in jail.
The play, performed by the theater collective Vértebro, explores how the popular imagination – religion and its icons, music, food, fiestas – shapes personal identity. The actors remain naked throughout the performance and recreate scenes related to tradition, including Easter. The work debuted in 2017 at the Terrasa Noves Tendències Festival in Barcelona and since then, has been performed without incident in Valencia, the Reims Festival in France, and in Mexico City.
The protest began ahead of the play’s debut in Madrid on Friday night. On the morning of the performance, the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers began to receive calls from people who were offended by what they had seen in promotional videos, the group’s head Paloma Castellanos told EL PAÍS.
The organization launched a petition to demand Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena stop the performance and call on the Madrid public prosecutor to suspend the work for “offending religious sentiment,” adding that minors were allowed to attend. According to Castellanos, the petition received 60,000 signatures in one day.
Meanwhile, the Catholic organization Hazte Oír (Make Yourself Heard), which recently campaigned for Spain’s gender violence law to be repealed with a bus against what it described as “feminazis,” also launched a petition entitled: “Pornography to make fun of Easter.” More than 32,000 people have since signed the petition, according to the campaign website.
But Madrid’s public prosecutor ruled on Friday that there were not sufficient legal grounds to stop the performance scheduled for that night or Sunday. And on Monday, the prosecutor decided not to suspend the play given it had already been performed and there was therefore “no urgency or the possibility of irreparable damage as the complainants had argued.”
While the theater collective has not commented on the backlash, Madrid City Hall’s cultural department has defended the work on the grounds of creative freedom. The head of cultural activities Getsemaní de San Marcos said on Sunday that “both the administrations that program municipal cultural centers and the artists who present their work have artistic autonomy,” adding that “many other artists have used iconography and an aesthetic that evokes religious symbols” without causing offense.
Bookshop threatened for “offensive” cover
The scandal over God has a vagina comes just a few days after La Integral bookshop in Madrid received a threatening phone call over the “offensive” book cover of España salvaje (or, Savage Spain). The history book, which has an image of Spanish general José Millán Astray y Terreros on its cover, takes a critical look at the role of the military leader.
According to the bookstore clerk María, the person who called was a member of the “Millán Astray Patriotic Platform and a member of the [far-right] political party Vox.” In the phone conversation, they said the book was “an offense to many Spaniards. So we ask you to take it down and are letting you know we will take legal action against your store and the publishing house that has published it.”
Servando Rocha, the editor of the book, which is written by various authors, explained: “Some consider [Millán Astray] a hero, but others don’t [...] They only want one interpretation of history: theirs. But history cannot be tailored like a suit.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.