In Seville, in the south of Spain, Easter is one of the most important festivals of the year. Semana Santa in the Andalusian capital sees processions carrying religious imagery snake their way from churches to the city's cathedral, in some cases through the night.
This year, there's a design scandal, with some decrying the illustration that's being used to promote the festival. But the city has witnessed bigger poster design controversies in the past (see article on poster designs for inspiration for your own work).
Illustrated by Seville artist Salustiano Garcia, the 2024 Semana Santa poster shows a resuscitated Jesus with a beard and long hair. All fairly traditional, but Christ's soft features and the fact that the lower half of his body is barely covered has led the conservative Catholic lobby group IPSE to declare the poster “shameful” and "camp". Javier Navarro, the local leader of the far-right Vox party, described it as intentionally provocative.
Garcia has denied that the image is sexual, saying that he was inspired by his own son and that the painting respects historic depictions. The senator and former Seville mayor Juan Espadas defended the work's blend of "tradition and modernity" and the Archbishop of Seville also gave it a vote of support. But, having lived in Seville myself for several years around a decade ago, I can well picture the controversy.
The city is proud of its traditions, from the bull ring to the annual April Fair, and this is by no means the first time that a poster for a major event has stirred controversy. In fact, expressing outrage over designs for Semana Santa, the Feria de Abril and other events is a regular pastime.
As recently as 2017, there was a similar scandal around a poster for Christmas festivities. In this case, it was an illustration of the archangel Gabriel by Manuel Peña that was denounced as being too sexy. People also thought the figure looked suspiciously like Atlético de Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann. But most scandalous of all was the pose. God's heavenly messenger appeared to be stroking the Giralda, the bell tower of Seville's cathedral, as it ejaculated a Madonna lily. Even an LGBT campaign group suggested the design was a touch homoerotic.
¿Qué hace el delantero del Atlético de Madrid Griezmann, en el Cartel de Navidad de Sevilla? pic.twitter.com/uPh2hZvxS1November 27, 2017
Este es el cartel oficial de la Navidad de Sevilla ¿No os parece un poco homoerótico? pic.twitter.com/1HBrdQmNKmNovember 27, 2017
And there were more scandals before that. In 2015, there were questions over why Fernández Lacomba's poster design for the bull fighting season featured not a single bull or bullfighter. In the 2020 season, the controversy was because the the German painter Albert Oehlen's illustration was too abstract, and looked, in the words of one bull fighting publication, "like a mistake".
But perhaps no Sevillian poster controversy was quite as big as that of 1984, which saw not one but two design scandals. Both the April Fair poster and the Holy Week posters were seen as too modern. The outrage against the latter, a design by Rolando Campos that used collage to form the face of Jesus, was so strong that a year later it was decided not to hire a contemporary artist to create a poster but to rerun a design from 1912.
Since then, bold poster designs have become much more acceptable. In fact, Manolo Cuervo's 2022 offering with its clear pop art influences was hailed by some as the best design of the past 10 years. However, it's clear that Semana Santa poster designs can still spark indignation.