Fans: More Than a Beautiful Object

Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla

An object that helps keep you cool, a clothing accessory, a tool for seduction, or a means of communication.

The MACPSE's fan collection
A broad selection of fans bought and donated from various sources.

The assumption that the fan is merely an artistic object is too restrictive. That is why the MACPSE has taken an ethnographic perspective on this clothing accessory...

...which bears so much social, symbolic, and semiotic significance.

A Brief History
From China, circa 2000 BCE.

Most historians agree that fans originated in the Orient, and it is thought that they were initially used to meet the most basic of needs (fanning the flames of a fire, cooling down in the heat, or swatting away insects).

It was in China that the invention (circa 2000 BCE) took on greater importance as a component of traditional attire for both men and women.

Japan, on the other hand, created the "sensu" folding fan (circa 670 CE) with a mechanism based on bat wings.

From these two countries, use of the fan in all its variations spread around the world.

In Spain, the use of fans has been documented since the Islamic era. The country soon became one of the main centers of fan production, culminating in the establishment of the Real Fábrica de Abanicos (Royal Fan Factory) in the 19th century.

The factory produced a wide variety of fans, extending their use to all social classes, ages, and genders...

...and also for any occasion (parties, mourning, day-to-day, etc.), helping to create the typical image of "Spanishness" abroad.

The Language of Fans
A form of non-verbal communication.

A vital fashion accessory and a tool for seduction, flirtation, and even modesty...

...the fan is inextricably linked to female nature, and the feminine image.

In the hands of women, it became a form of non-verbal communication; a way to express feelings and coded messages...

...creating its own secret language and allowing women a certain freedom of expression...

...at a time, in the 19th century, when social and moral conventions prohibited public displays of emotion.

The language of the fan was in the way it was held and positioned...

...giving rise to a wide repertoire of gestures with hidden meanings, which had to be understood by both parties and had many variations.

For example, fanning yourself briskly meant "I love you passionately"...

...while hitting the fan against an item denoted impatience, and tossing the fan away meant "I hate you."

New systems of communication have since made the fan redundant in private communication...

...but they are still widely used and have experienced a resurgence after years of decline, remaining firmly embedded in Spanish culture...

...they are still an essential accessory for the hot summer months, and have been reinvented as a fashionable item...

...as a means of expression in flamenco, and even a souvenir for tourists.

Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla
Credits: Story

Fans: More Than a Beautiful Object

Organized by
Museum of Arts and Traditions of Sevilla
Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía

Curator: Mª del Carmen Morillo Fulgueira
Texts: Museum of Popular Arts and Customs of Seville
Photography: Museum of Popular Arts and Customs in Seville
Digital assembly: Mª del Carmen Morillo Fulgueira

Museum of Arts and Traditions of Sevilla

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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