Silent Choirs: space, body and identity.
A Cors Muts focused research has been presented at the City, Public Space & Body Conference Goldsmiths University.
On December 15, The FestSpace Barcelona team presented the paper “Silent Choirs: space, body and identity“ at the City, Public Space & Body Conference hosted by the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship, Goldsmiths University.
The festival of the Cors Muts or Silent Choirs has a longstanding tradition in the Barceloneta neighborhood, in the city center of Barcelona. In this presentation we explored how the neighborhood’s identity is represented through the occupation of urban space and its accompanying bodily performances, incorporating different notions of inclusion and exclusion, and specifically how this incorporation of women into the celebration raises issues and causes contradictions.
The Barceloneta neighborhood was a traditional fishing area nowadays integrated at the city center of Barcelona. Its big transformation came along with the Olympic Games hosted in the city in 1992, the seafront areas being key targets of public investment plans. Since then Barcelona has become a first-level international tourist spot giving rise to gentrification and touristification in the city center.
The origins of the choirs are linked with the choirs union created by the musician and politician Josep Ansel Clavé who promoted a workers’ cultural movement in the Catalonia region during the second half of the XIX century. During the Spanish dictatorship (1939-1975) these choirs were not allowed to sing, giving rise to the name of the festivity. Once democracy was restored (from 1977 onwards) the choirs continued being silent and since then every year they celebrate the Cors Muts dancing instead of singing, with movements and clothing of satirical nature.
The structure of this festival commemorates the old times in which the men from this once fishing village went to the mountains to exchange sea products for meat. The collective journey was designed to minimize the risks, as mountains were inhabited by bandits. It involved three days, leaving on Whit Saturday, and returning on Whit Monday on the frame of the Pentacostes.
Nowadays the Cors Muts celebration maintains this structure. The choirs dance around the neighborhood as a farewell on Saturday, leave on an excursion to a nearby town for two nights, and on their way back on Monday they do a new parade, as a way to greet back to the neighborhood. These parades last for five to seven hours, with the members of the choirs (around 1200-1400 people) dancing and visiting the headquarters of all other choirs.
In this presentation we explored the nature and changes in the Cors Muts unveiling different forms and degrees of exclusion that are applied to visitors and newcomers, on the one hand, and to women, on the other. However, this double exclusion is not new, and it has been documented in other cultural events (Dashper & Finkel, 2020; Finkel, 2010; Gerrard, 2010). The local masculine participants are conceptualized as normative, main reference and core of the festival, occupying the higher position in the festival hierarchy.
First, these choirs are intimately linked to the neighborhood, determining their member’s social identity and the staging of the festicity itself, characterized by an intensive occupation and use of the public space and its accompanying bodily performances. The touristication and gentrification processes are presented as the source of social conflict in the neighborhood and has led to reshape the staging of the event, establishing clear exclusion boundaries between insiders and outsiders (Finkel, 2010; Gisbert & Ulldemolins, 2019b).
Second, during the last decade several women-only choirs were created, serving to break the male monopoly of the dancing parade, with women engaging in other participative roles (Dashper & Finkel, 2020; Gisbert & Ulldemolins, 2019a). However, the male-female division remains unaltered. On the one hand, the caring role remains on the female side, the concept of network of women being key in enabling women’s participation; on the other, when a female child is conceived as an adult, she must stop dancing with her choir if it is a male’s choir. Therefore, the female body continues being conceived as an issue, entailing an exclusion and a high degree of symbolic violence (Bourdieu, 1977; Krais, 1993; Plat & Finkel, 2020).
Bourdieu, Pierre (1977 ) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .
Bullen, M. (1997). Las mujeres y los alardes de Hondarribia e Irún Margaret Bullen+ Vol. 4 Núm. 1 (1997): Mujeres: Cuerpo e identidades, Estudios, Páginas 123-145
Dashper, K and Finkel, R (2020) ‘Doing gender’ in Critical Event Studies: A dual agenda for research. International Journal of Event and Festival Management. ISSN 1758-2954 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEFM-03-2020-0014
Finkel, R. (2010) .’Dancing around the ring of fire’: Social capital, tourism resistance and gender dichotomies at Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Shetland, Event Management, vol. 14, , pp. 275-285.
Gisbert, V. & Rius-Ulldemolins, J. (2019a): Women’s bodies in festivity spaces: feminist resistance to gender violence at traditional celebrations, Social Identities,DOI: 10.1080/13504630.2019.1610376
Gisbert V, & Ulldemolins, J.R. (2019b). Ritual festivo, monopolio emocional y dominación social. Análisis del caso de las Fallas.
Krais B. (1993). ‘Gender and Symbolic Violence: Female Oppression in the Light of Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory of Social Practice’, in Calhoun C., Lipuma E., Postone M., (eds.), Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives. Cambridge: Polity and Blackwell, 156–177.
Platt & Finkel (2020). Gendered Violence at International Festivals: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. London: Routledge