It is notable when an organized gang of aerosol-wielding vandals protests your protest against censorship with censorship.
It’s also odious.
Everyone knows that it is normal for graffiti writers and street artists to expect that their ephemeral work may be buffed by a municipality or crossed out by a rival painter. This is a different matter entirely.
This is our 2nd time to bring you this story from a paint jam in Barcelona’s Plaza de las Tres Chimeneas where a collection of artists gathered to paint works addressing what they see as an unjust attack on the freedom of a citizen to express opinions in lyrics and writings. Taken together, these works are a passionate rejection of censorship and a colorful act of free speech by a community.
It made international news last month when Pablo Hasel, a Spanish rapper/singer/artist/musician from this city, was imprisoned under a Supreme Court ruling, which found his lyrics about King Emeritus Juan Carlos De Borbon to be offensive.
Artist Roc Blackblock was surrounded by a tight semi-circle of scrutinizing journalists and citizens as he painted. This was his second mural since his first had been immediately censored and ordered removed at the action in mid-February by an NCNeta brigade who a Barcelona Urban Guard escorted. He didn’t appear to mind the pressure.
Because there have been demonstrations in various cities and because modern media drools over scenes of destruction and violence, it’s easy to forget the many peaceful artists who paint their opinions, says documentary photographer Fernando Alcalá, who shares his work here.
“I think it’s important to keep speaking about the artistic actions when, after days of riots and looting, the media has forgotten about freedom of speech, and they just talk about burnt trash cans,” he says.
We’re happy that he captured these before they were destroyed by ‘Union de Brigadas,’ who recorded their censorious actions proudly and shared them on Twitter and YouTube.
I think it’s important to keep speaking about the artistic actions when, after days of riots and looting, the media has forgotten about freedom of speech and they just talk about burnt trash cans.”
Freedom of expression is foundational in a democracy. Without it, it is not difficult for a culture to descend into authoritarianism, fascism, and dictatorship. By many standards, Spain’s democracy is still young, with a Parliamentary Monarchy since 1978. So it is curious and alarming to hear that this EU country has been silencing free speech in the last few years.
In 2018, we reported here on an initiative undertaken by more than two dozen artists from Spain called #nocallarem, a visual and musical protest inside a former prison to speak out against the Spanish Supreme Court ruling against the rights of an artist, a rapper, Pablo Hasel. In lyrics about the then-King Juan Carlos De Borbon deemed offensive, the young musician violated recently passed laws forbidding such speech.
Now, on the occasion of Mr. Hasel preparing to report to the authorities to begin serving his prison sentence, an outdoor art exhibition this month at Parque de las Tres Chimeneas (Three Chimneys Park) in Barcelona, a collection of artists gathered to paint works addressing what they see as an unjust attack on the freedom of a citizen and artist to express opinions in lyrics and writings. As you might expect at a graffiti/mural jam it was a celebratory Saturday of painting, music, dogs, kids, and the occasional soccer (fútbol) scrimmage.
But as soon as the mural paintings were up, the trouble began as well, according to artists and free-speech activists on the scene. “Less than twenty-four hours after doing their artistic actions, an NCNeta brigade escorted by a Barcelona Urban Guard van censored one of the works, covering it fully with paint,” says journalist and activist Audrey García in a Facebook posting.
The mural by artist Roc Blackblock featured the former king surrounded by words the rapper had used to describe him, including thief. Aside from being insulting to a public figure and calling out the rapper’s case, it is difficult for locals to understand why it was buffed.
García and others contend that the brazen act was evidence of an increasing level of silencing that targets some members of society for their speech but not others. “The city administration carried out a new act of censorship about our works, making our protest and denouncement of freedom of expression even more evident and necessary, adding a new case to the already too long, outrageous and constant violation of our rights and freedoms as creators and consequently of all society,” she says.
Eventually, the city apologized and offered solutions for restoring the piece, but the movement to free Mr. Hasel and protect free expression continues. About 15 artists participated in the painting jam, including Roc Blackblock, Antón Seoane, El Rughi, Magia Trece, Doctor Toy, El Edu, Galleta María, Kader, Maga, Owen, Reskate, Chamo San, Sigrid Amores, Tres Voltes Rebel, Arte Porvo y Elna Or, among others.
Since then, more demonstrations have taken place in the streets of Barcelona, Valencia, Lérida, and Hasel’s hometown of Segrià to protest his imprisonment. According to the BBC, “More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodóvar and Hollywood star Javier Bardem, have signed a petition against Hasel’s jail term, while Amnesty International described his arrest as terrible news for freedom of expression in Spain.”
Our special thanks to photographer Fer Alcalá for sharing his fine work with BSA readers here.