Since the reign of Al-Hakam II, who ruled from 961 to 976, Córdoba has been considered a centre for education after a plethora of libraries and universities were opened. Just recently, a new statue was erected in the city centre, which is full of beautiful statues, making an already picturesque city even more so. This particular one seems another symbol for education – with a woman holding open a newspaper. As a language teacher, it’s also a little-known fact that Córdoba has one of the highest concentrations of language schools.
Córdoba is also the largest urban area declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the main attractions is the Mesquita, the Mosque-Cathedral. I found out about the city’s rich history from a free walking tour, where we stood outside the building. But I was able to go inside for free, deciding to wake up early one morning. Having just come to Spain after travelling in South East Asia, I was reminded of the grandness of such places of worship.
There are many historical sites to see, including the Roman Bridge, various plazas and gates. Most recently, I decided to go to the Inquisition Museum, located in the Judería Quarter. The museum showcases torture instruments used between the 13th and 19th century, along with descriptions of how they were used and illustrations to accompany that – if the writing wasn’t graphic enough already. They were noted to be artistic, and nobody could deny the creativity of these inventions. For example, one device was made to look like a musical instrument, whilst others were created with masks.
Almost desensitised to the portrayal of women in society, I felt some unease at the many naked women that were used to show the violence people endured right from the onset. It is worth noting that one description conveyed that branks were ‘overwhelmingly’ used on women and stated it was used on those who ‘transgressed against the prevailing conventions, against the arrogance of the male power structure.’ Branks were used to literally silence women, sometimes mutilating their tongues.
There was some dissonance between the information that obviously condemned such violence against women, and the repeated imagery of women being tortured. Perhaps the answer would be to have equal measures of men depicted in such positions, or maybe the images were simply sexualised – an obvious source for increasing discomfort due to the violent nature of the images. Maybe the images could be less artistic and more scientific, or else the current representation of women being tortured lends the case for glorifying such violence.
Yet, part of the exhibition seems to have been put together rather thoughtlessly.
It is important to learn of this history, especially considering one torture instrument was used up until 1975, and that torture such as this still occurs across the globe. Yet, part of the exhibition seems to have been put together rather thoughtlessly. Part of me wonders when the museum was put together and if they have changed it at all – other than in name, which used to be the more appropriate ‘Galería de la Tortura’ – since the only historical information about the Inquisition is given before you enter the displays within the six rooms.
I left the museum feeling sick to my stomach, which is not something I’ve experienced before. The fact that it is free for children under 10 years old is also disturbing. What’s more disturbing is my own acceptance of seeing images of women like this, and the small number of negative reviews that point this out. It is as if these images are so normalised now that I didn’t trust my gut upon seeing the first image, knowing that an exhibition about torture was not going to be pleasant, but not entirely understanding my own feelings as to why I felt an added discomfort when walking through each room.
On one review website, the manager responds to a comment about an inaccurate price. Yet, there is no mention of whether they will review these aspects of the museum which many found distasteful, and both men and women named the images as misogynistic. It provokes thought in terms of other recent protests at museum displays, such as the museum that was supposed to be dedicated to the history of women in the East End of London, which ended up being dedicated to the violent crimes of Jack the Ripper. To reiterate, the darker chapters of history are important, and museums are there to educate, but they should not need to glorify violence and sexualise women to do so.
Featured image © Chasingtheunexpected