Vermibus: Ad Busting In Barcelona. Catalonia’s Desire to Secede from Spain

As the October 1st  referendum deadline looms ever closer, the tensions over Catalonia’s attempts to secede from Spain have dramatically taken to the streets – and Vermibus is adding his voice to the raucous dialogue in the Catalunya area of Barcelona. Using an interventionist technique that has become more popular in the last decade but dates back at least to the 1960s, the Spanish born Street Artist is taking over an advertising space to promote artful civic discourse rather than flogging shampoo that makes your hair shiny.

Vermibus. Barcelona Spain. September 21st. (photo © Fer Alcalá)

In news reports everywhere you learn that the central Spanish government and its supporters are accused of extraordinary efforts to quash the democratic efforts of the Catalan parliament to push for the divorce. Recent letters from MPs, more than a hundred academics, and other secessionists accuse the government of anti-democratic measures such as, “taking to court 700 Catalan mayors for allowing preparations for the vote to go ahead, seizing campaign material and ballot papers, threatening to cut off power to polling stations, arresting and charging a newspaper editor accused of aiding the preparations for the referendum and banning a public meeting called in Madrid to discuss the issue,” reports The Guardian.

Vermibus. Barcelona Spain. September 21st. (photo © Fer Alcalá)

For Vermibus, the issue is simpler: The government is hiding from the obvious, choosing not to see the truth and hoping it will go away. Similarly you may look at this image of a person putting their hands over their eyes and interpret it that seeing what is happening is painful and shocking.

As citizens who may look at the events from a patriachal/matriarchal perspective, you can also imagine average people hiding their eyes from witnessing their parents yelling and fighting with each other. As painful as it gets, hiding your eyes doesn’t make it disappear.

“Spain is facing the most complex identity issue of its short democracy,” says the ad-busting Vermibus. “The unity of this country is obviously broken and this problem has to be addressed urgently. The attitude from the central power is one of trying to solve the problem by ignoring it,” he says, “and with that the tensions between Catalonia and Spain are growing exponentially.”

For Fernando Alcalá Losa, the photographer who shares these photos with BSA readers today, the demonstrations and fighting in Barcelona streets right now looked like a perfect opportunity to work with Vermibus, who was in town to give a talk.

Vermibus. Barcelona Spain. September 21st. (photo © Fer Alcalá)

“I had met the Berlin-based Vermibus personally at the 1st edition of Urvanity Contemporary art fair this year. Everything went very fast. I contacted him when I found out that he was giving a lecture in the city, got some tools and tried to make this happen,” Fer says. “We almost failed because of several reasons, but, after some hesitation and logistical issues, the adbusting happened while tons of people were flooding the heart of the city and cops were everywhere. And let me say, it felt good.”

It’s a simple act, this claiming of commercial space for public commentary, but worth the risk for those who increasingly take over bus stops and myriad kiosks that take over the public sphere. For Alcalá Losa, times of civil discontent require civic involvement and this is a tumultuous period for the culture.

“For me it was the fact that the ‘Guardia Civil’, the police branch of the Spanish army, arrested several Catalonian politicians in different cities of the region, leading to a massive and peaceful response by the citizens taking to the streets protesting, demonstrating and claiming for freedom and the right to choose and being independent from Spain,” he says.

“All this political confrontation is not about independence anymore. It’s about freedom of choice, the right to vote and the right of having the chance of saying yes or not. Period.”

Vermibus. Barcelona Spain. September 21st. (photo © Fer Alcalá)

For his part, Vermibus says the problem is a self-imposed blindness and he hopes his small intervention is a reflection of it. “What happened recently in Catalonia is not a problem of identity anymore, or at least is not how I personally feel it. It is an attempt at democracy, and by not wanting to see it the problem won’t get solved on its own.”

Vermibus. Barcelona Spain. September 21st. (photo © Fer Alcalá)

This article is also published on The Huffington Post.