When the repressive Spanish dictatorship finally came to an end with the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, the counter-culture that had been simmering for years elsewhere in Europe came with a bang.
“After years of repression, there was an immense desire to do things; people were desperate to express themselves, ”said Pepe Ribas, curator of Underground, an exhibition that celebrates the intense but brief flowering of the Barcelona counterculture of the 1970s.
The exhibit at Palau Robert brings together around 700 artifacts ranging from books, magazines and theater posters to concert posters by Frank Zappa and The Rolling Stones, as well as black and white images of music festivals.
The exhibition floor is carpeted with reproductions of front pages from the era covering events such as the impeachment of Nixon and the marriage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Ribas said it wasn’t just about embracing sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but a whole counter-cultural movement that dated back to Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Poets of the 1950s and beyond. of the.
“We wanted to recover all the libertarian movements – feminism, naturism, homosexuality, municipalities, cooperatives – which all flourished in Catalonia between 1910-30,” said Ribas, who in 1974 founded the magazine Ajoblanco, which was in force for many years. the newspaper of the house of the Spanish counter-culture.
“We took to the streets because we wanted to change the way we live and think. We wanted to have sex, make different music, and read all about American counterculture that we could get our hands on. “
Ribas said that for a time Barcelona enjoyed more freedom than Madrid because it was then a kind of dead end, marginal to the political process and a place where fewer people depended on the state for their subsistence.
“For a while there was a particular freedom in Barcelona because the Franco regime focused its repression on political parties and less on people who wanted to change their way of life,” he said.
“It was a time of incredible creativity, without imposed standards, lived on the margins of parties and institutions. The inconsistencies of the declining Franco regime, with persecutions focused on Marxist and separatist political parties, added to Barcelona’s geographic distance from the centers of power. All of this opened up cracks through which restless youth could sneak in and connect with counter-cultural movements in other countries.
The exhibition recalls the iconoclasm and sheer joy of the time, as well as the feeling that after years of isolation, Spain was joining the world. Radical theater groups sprang up, there were feminist gatherings, subversive magazines and comics appeared, the Stones performed at the monumental arenas in Barcelona, King Crimson was up the road in Badalona.
However, this golden age was brief as optimism gave way to disillusionment, a change according to Ribas was exemplified by a shift in drug culture from LSD to heroin nihilism. In the early 1980s, Spain was in the throes of a heroin epidemic.
“At the end of 1978 disenchantment set in, in part because it became clear that if you could transform your daily life, you couldn’t change institutions once politicians made a pact with it. the Francoists on the transition to democracy. We went from thinking of ourselves to thinking of me.
Ribas said he was surprised to discover, while preparing the exhibition, that thousands of his contemporaries had abandoned the cities at the end of the 1970s “to be teachers and village doctors and live an alternative way of life in small villages. of Menorca, the Pyrenees and Las Alpujarras in Andalusia. I was amazed at how many people from that time managed to continue to live by their standards.
The fight for change has not been in vain. Spain has seen amazing changes over the past 50 years, moving from a denominational state to a secular state, from being synonymous with sexual repression to becoming one of the first European countries to legalize same-sex marriage.
The seeds for all this change, Ribas said, were sown in the mid-1970s, in a handful of streets in Barcelona’s La Rambla.
The metro is at Palau Robert until November 28. Admission fee.