The Visual Construction of Whiteness in Spanish Visual Culture
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GKA VISUAL 2022: 8th International Conference on Visual Culture
Spain; Magazines; Gender; Race; Whiteness; Identity; Visual culture
In his canonical text, "White", Richard Dyer says, “race is not only attainable to people who are not white, nor is imagery of non-white people the only racial imagery.” He warns against the treatment of whiteness as an invisible entity: a "non-race", "non-religion" or “non-identity”. This, he says, is how whiteness keeps its power. My paper studies the visual construction of whiteness in early twentieth-century Spanish magazines, in order to debunk the idea that white identity was not (and is not) carefully crafted in Spain. Images of white women have historically dominated the pages of Spanish magazines: selling white "Oriental" pills, skin-whitening creams, and more. Many of the images and products that I include in my paper were globally successful, sold from Latin America, to Spain, to France and even Australia. They thus reveal how Spanish advertisers and illustrators grappled to make Spain’s presentations of whiteness compatible with the global and European market. Given the rise of far right and racist ideologies in Spain, it is critical that art historians step up, providing the necessary context to nuance people’s consumption of historical and contemporary constructions of whiteness in art and media. In the pandemic, art and popular culture have proved invaluable for social wellbeing. It is clear that the visual materials that we encounter every day – posters, magazines, and adverts – are the spaces where our ideas are shaped and contested. In this new context of appreciation for the importance of visual culture, “whiteness” must be included in conversations about the creation and recreation of identities, ethnicities and genders in a globalized era.