In the US, families of military veterans say, “Freedom isn’t free.” It refers to the enormous amount of sacrifice people have to make – military and civilians alike – to guarantee that societies provide a fulsome measure of freedom and autonomy to their citizens. Likewise, free speech has to be fought for periodically to ensure that people have it – because it can be so swiftly taken away if we are not vigilant.
In our third installment of the murals painted in February in Barcelona, Spain, we are reminded that historically, the artist is often one of an oppressive government’s targets. It is somewhat sequential, the positions and stations in society who gradually are targeted for slurring and silencing. Academics, clergy, the press – a building degradation of respect for institutions and trust across the board.
These artists express their opinions in defiance of silencing because, inherently, they fight for everyone’s right to freedom of speech and expression, regardless of our comfort or discomfort with the ideas expressed. Because they must.
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.
It’s a challenge for artists to find opportunity to show their work, but in an era where opportunities for artists are diminishing by the day, here’s a new group show mounted mid-pandemic in Barcelona.
80 artists of many levels and styles are using the materials that they had handy when the first lockdown hit – cardboard, old canvases, frames, wood, paper. Each piece reflects the anxiety, fear, and hope of the artists – all expressed as they know best.
It’s good to see curators like Ana Manaia and Xavier Ballaz putting their heads together to create a show at a time like this one, named ‘B -L O C A L’. Certainly there can be no big party, but one by one, visitors can come to see the works and be reassured that art will continue to flourish in the time of Corona.
Some people paint pottery and china as a part of their trade. Manolo Mesa paints it as part of his mural here in Oviedo, Spain for Parees Festival.
The Andalusian artist may have begun with graffiti on the street as the century turned but he moved to portraiture, canvasses, and large walls; a spiritual traveler in search of the contemporary. Now he is gently cradling this newer fascination and rather surprisingly setting the public mesa with his decorative vessels, each becoming more ornate.
A trained fine artist at University of Fine Arts in Seville, this Andalusian tells us about his fixation with jugs, pots, and bowls as vehicles and storage.
“Facing these inert objects, meditating on their inherent beauty and spending an eternity devoted to their placid observation, I’m waiting to perceive that meaning that resides in them – as an autonomous way of being.”
Modern primitive expressionist Manuel García Fernández AKA ‘El Nolas’ was born in the mid-90s here in Oviedo, Spain. Now his autobiographical mixed-technique perspective is taking over some large public walls here for the Parees Festival 2020, its fourth edition.
It’s good to see a fresh take on the current state of urban interventions; even as it recalls more formal studio practices of contemporary artists that you have seen in the last decades. In retrospect, this is the path that a lot of Street Art has often followed; name checking the past masters in galleries/museums and updating them to this moment on the street.
With a mural that she says is inspired by traditional Asturian tales Arantxa Recio Parra employs additive and reductive 2-D shape painting strategies in public space. With painting technique that may recall crisp illustration and advertising styles of the 1950s and 60s, her new work stretches buoyantly along this long expanse in Oviedo, a town in northwest Spain between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Bay of Biscay.
Almost paper cut outs in appearance, these bright forms imply both space and spatial relationships, re-drawing a public street and your relationship to it.
Born in Zaragoza the multidisciplinary artist joins the Parees festival this year with her style that is commercially popular at the moment; bright, simplified, and just quirky enough to capture the publics’attention. The past few years her illustrative style has landed her on walls in Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Austria, Scotland, and Croatia.
A valiant and revolutionary woman and winner of the Nadal Prize for literature in 1952, Delores Medio gets new life here at the 2020 Parees mural festival. Painted by artist Lidia Cao, the character of the writer comes through, a veiled portrait of her personality, her intensity.
More hippy chic and free-wheeling than you may remember, Miss Van brings her buxom, plump, yet oddly drowsy beauties to the Avant Garde festival in Spain. Evermore stylized and romantic, her feathered and festooned ladies have always had a mysterious sensuality since you first began seeing them on the street over a decade ago. Now as their dandy evolution swoons them to something closer to hyperreal, we may be seeing a merging with aesthetics of AI and the smoothly moving robotics of today’s science realm.
The raven-haired Toulousean street artist/muralist/painter brings here ‘Las Gitanas’ as the final of this three-chapter Tudela tome, a warmly languid femininity that washes over you, bringing you closer than you had imagined to the future. With June’s mulberry bruised skies above the rusted mountain range behind them, these pursed-lipped adventurers are given an added dimension of surreality from the photo-framing by gifted photographer Fer Alcala in these shots for Avant Garde Tudela 2020.
Jeff McCreight crosses the rubicon with this allegory of summer joy at Avant Garde Tudela 2020. The American painter brings these two jumping boys to the river to cool off just as the heat of July is arriving to cook us all.
When it comes to street art and murals, as you know, context is everything and this spot at Paseo del Castillo is the environment that frames your childhood dreams, and hopefully, one many child will yet enjoy.
Japan’s Mina Hamada has just completed her mural for the 2020 edition of Avant Garde Tudela in Spain. Curated by artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada and organized by Tudela-Cultura, the northern Spanish city has been home to a number of murals in the last decade or so from names most street art fans will recognize, and despite being in the middle of Covid-19 lockdown and gradual stages of liberation, this show finds no excuse to stop.
“Betting on culture is always risky, even more nowadays,” say organizers, but the results are solid. Three new medium and large scale murals my Hamada, Miss Van, and Jeff McCreight were added to the twenty-one brought in the previous edition of the festival.
Here we see that Hamada’s universe of shapes and color call out the natural world and environmental elements. Flora and plant life react to the stimuli of wind and water, with Mina interpreting her relationship with them all.
This story starts in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and ends in Madrid, Spain but its focus is global in nature.
With the earth at the center of the eye, Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada tells us that the first of two murals he painted for the recent COP 25 conferences is called “Forest Focus.” As the world has been watching the largest forests of Australia burning this month, he clearly knows what we’re all facing.
“With an image of the world as the iris,” he says, “This mural has an artistic focal point that symbolizes the values set forth at the COP25 conference being held in Madrid.”
The Cuban-born Street Artist, now based in Barcelona, was partnering with a public art program/platform called GreenPoint EARTH during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, or COP 25 to create two new street art pieces.
Well known for his “Terrestrial Series” of artworks spread over masses of land that are visible by planes flying overhead, Rodriguez-Gerada blends social and ecological themes seamlessly with sometimes profound results.
His second mural of the series is a portrait of Hilda Pérez, a person indigenous to Peru and theVice President of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP). The team says she was chosen to represent indigenous people because their voices are frequently marginalized in discussions about ecology and climate change, despite occupying 25-50 percent of the Earth’s land.
“We need to think of every tool in our toolkit because time is ultimately running out,” said Greenpoint Innovations founder Stephen Donofrio at a panel discussion with the artist at the Action Hub Event during the COP25.
He was speaking about the pivotal role that Street Art has been able to fill in education, as well as his own interest in partnering with artists and other collaborators to raise awareness for a myriad of environmental issues. “That’s why it’s really important that Chile/Madrid COP25 has this really strong message that it’s time for action.”
more plans to involve Street Artists around the world “to inspire climate action with
positive messages about the interconnected themes of nature, people, and
climate,” Donofrio says he believes that the
power of communication that Street Artists wield can be focused to make real,
“The connectivity is really important
in these projects to establish that we are dealing with globally challenging issues
that boil down to a really local consequence.”