No offence: Has ‘wokeness’ gone too far?

Mind your language

El niño de Vallecas by Diego Velazquez. Credit: Public domain/Creative

Which words do you find offensive? Recently the Prado Museum has revised some of its descriptions of artwork to avoid causing offence.

In an age which seems to have a heightened awareness surrounding which words are now acceptable or not, Madrid’s Prado Museum has conducted a comprehensive review and updated its language concerning descriptions of artwork, in a bid to align with modern sensitivities.

Following a consensus between the President of the Government, Pedro Sanchez, and the leader of the PP, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, the Prado Museum took proactive steps by altering its website, exhibition labels, and catalogue entries.

This move was in anticipation of a constitutional amendment discussion in the Spanish Congress aimed at updating language to avoid terms deemed pejorative or outdated.

A Shift in Sensitivity

The museum embarked on a meticulous audit of 1,800 exhibition labels and approximately 27,000 website texts, removing references that might be considered derogatory in today’s world.

This endeavour reflects an evolving societal awareness, ensuring that the terminology used in the museum does not detract from the dignity of individuals depicted in its vast collection.

‘The challenge is to match the modifications to the constitutional change, because the term “disabled” is considered in some way harmful to people with disabilities,’ the museum stated, highlighting the gravity of aligning language with contemporary values.

Historical Integrity Versus Modern Values

While the museum has updated the descriptions accompanying artworks, it has made a point to leave the titles intact, recognising the historical context and the intentions of the original artists.

For instance, ‘El Niño de Vallecas‘ by Velazquez, now features the term ‘achondroplasia’ instead of ‘dwarfism,’ reflecting a more clinical and less stigmatising language.

‘In this way, we match social sensitivity without altering the historical value of the pieces or the descriptive value of the texts,’ the museum explained, underlining the balance between respecting artistic heritage and evolving linguistic standards.

Generational Perspectives on Language and Colonialism

The Prado’s initiative sparks a broader conversation on how language reflects societal values and the importance of adapting to ensure inclusivity.

It also touches upon the broader debate of ‘decolonising’ exhibitions, highlighting how museums are now grappling with their colonial legacies.

This issue has divided opinion, with some viewing these changes as an overdue correction of historical narratives, while others criticise them as an erasure of history.

This nuanced approach by the Prado Museum raises important questions about how we reconcile respect for historical artworks with the imperative to reflect contemporary values of inclusivity and sensitivity.

It invites people of all generations to reflect on the language we use and how it shapes our understanding of art and history.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.


    • Peter Dare

      06 February 2024 • 12:25

      However you look at it it is still censorship. Colonialism happened you cannot deny or change history. If comments are made today which are derogatory then they deserve to be condemned but denying historical content is wrong.

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