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.
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.
A new sharply political campaign championing the freedom of expression has caught fire in Spain in the last few weeks under the hashtag #NoCallaremos, and Street Artists are now adding their talents to the protest. Rather shockingly for a modern European nation, a rapper’s prison sentence for offensive lyrics was upheld in Spanish Supreme Court in February (Billboard) and that decision along with other recent events has sparked a number of creative protests across the art world in cities across the country. Today BSA contributing Street Art photographer Fer Alcalá shares his opinions and new images of the murals in progress with BSA readers.
THE NO CALLAREM PLATFORM
~ by Fer Alcalá
…or how some of Spanish top artists react against censorship and repression of the freedom of speech from the central government…
It’s now known worldwide: the Spanish government is imprisoning hip hop artists like Valtonyc and Pablo Hasel because of their sharp and truthful lyrics as well as sentencing people like you and me because of their critical posts on social media.
As a reaction to these acts against the freedom of speech that are more in tune with a well established dictatorship than with 40 years of democracy, some projects like the No Callarem (we won’t shut up) platform have raised their voices.
One of the direct actions organized by the platform for fighting against Partido Popular’s civil rights oppression was to film a video clip featuring some of the most renowned lyricists on the scene as Frank T, Elphomega, Los Chikos del Maíz, La Ira, Rapsusklei, and César Strawberry, among others, at the old La Modelo prison. The location is an accurate metaphorical scenario when you are seeing that your liberty is being cut off thanks to laws like ‘Ley Mordaza’.
The song ‘Los Borbones son unos ladrones’, which alludes directly to the Spanish monarchy, includes some excerpts from some of the songs created by rappers serving a prison sentence. The video clip for the song, which you can watch at the end of this article, has become viral and almost all media outlets in the country are speaking about this big shout-out in the name of freedom.
I was invited to witness the filming and painting session by local artist Javier de Riba, from Reskate Studio, who invited some fellow artists to paint at La Modelo walls as a part of the whole process. Franco Fasoli JAZ, Twee Muizen, Txemy, Joan Tarragò, Enric Sant, Milvietnams, Werens and Fullet gave a new voice to the walls surrounding that backyard, providing 2D images that perfectly matched the spirit behind the beats and the rhymes.
This is what Javi has to say about his collaboration with the project:
“Our involvement with No Callarem happened thanks to the Catalan rap artist Pau Llonch. He lit the spark for recording a clip against the Valtonyc and Hasel sentences. They wanted to do it at La Modelo no matter what and the No Callarem platform supported the action. We helped to spread the word for putting together a team with different languages together to visually enhance the video clip.
At the beginning, was what meant to be an ‘atrezzo action’ turned into a bunch of pieces that can be visited in the backyard of Gallery 4. In fact that backyard is not open to the public, but you can see it from the watch guard pit. We think that, from a conceptual point of view, it’s very powerful to keep those pieces locked – especially when thinking about how things are going in Spain regarding freedom of speech.”
Additionally it’s worth mentioning Reskate’s initiative about shouting against the suffocating atmosphere that we are experiencing here for some time: ‘Our idea is that every artist post one piece / illustration / painting / picture (old or new) supporting our initiative promoting freedom of speech in order to criticize the lack of democracy within the Spanish government.
Some of the hashtags that we will use are #NoCallarem #EzGaraIsilduko #NonCalaremos #NunVamosCallar #NonCararam,#NoCallaremos being the main one.
Visual artists from Madrid, Zaragoza, Almería, Oviedo, Valencia, Vila-real, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valladolid, Tenerife…are supporting this initiative. Some of them are: Malakkai, Escif, Paula Bonet, Aryz, Ricardo Cavolo, Enric Sant, Twee Muizen, Franco Fasoli, Hyuro, Javier Jaén, Boa Mistura, Conrad Roset, Jordi Borràs, Danjer, Cinta Vidal, David de las Heras, Juan Díaz-Faes, Chamo San, and Marina Capdevila, among others.
La Semana por la Libertad de Expresión (Freedom of Speech Week) is happening now, with different activities taking place all over the country. The funds raised from these activities will go to a resistance fund for the platform in order to defend all those people chased and brought to justice because of censorship and repression. You can check the whole program of the week HERE.
So, yes: we have a fight going on. Comedians, actors and actresses, musicians, journalists, visual artists, the guy / girl next door who is active in social media… It’s kind of a Russian Roulette game where, if you are critical with the established system and you are using 3rd grade humor as a weapon, you can end in jail. And all of it is happening in a country whose government is accused of being the most corrupt on the whole continent.
I have a very well informed friend who has been kind of disappointed with the absence of critical vision and combative behaviors from most of the big names in the local street art / graffiti scene. Thanks to initiatives such as No Callarem and the impulse of people like Javi de Riba, she is reconciling herself with this small, but powerful little world whose images have the strength for making important things happen.
Finally, I’d like to recommend that you check the publications under the hashtag #nocallaremos that are out, as there will be some fine and unique art being produced for the occasion in the upcoming days.
As it’s being said in Los Borbones son unos Ladrones:
– rap music is not a crime
– we need scratches, we need paintings
– I don’t dream about Versace, I dream about barricades
– …because of the poetry that still sleeps in the ditches…
Big props to Javi de Riba, Xavier Urbano and all the artists behind the No Callarem movement.
This week BSA is in Barcelona to participate in the Contorno Urbano competition to select an artist for a new community mural and residency in the municipality of Sant Feliu de Llobregat – and of course to see the famed Barcelona Street Art scene as it continues to evolve.
Fresh off the plane from New York at 7 am, BSA hit the streets with the talented Street Art photographer Fer Alcalá and the director of Fundacion Contorno Urbana, Esteban Marin – both amazing and generous hosts.
We covered a lot of terrain in this pretty, clean and relatively quiet European city (Catalonian referendum marches last month not withstanding) and there is a wide variety of sanctioned and unsanctioned art on the streets even today, years after the city began cracking down on an organic Street Art scene that flourished here in the mid 2000s.
You’ll find a lot of local Street Artists here as well as a few international names who are passing through, or who have settled here and have studios in addition to a street practice.
For lunch you may want to check out the regional special dishes like Escudella d’Olla , a hearty Catalan stew with poached meats and vegetables, or fideuà, a noodle dish that locals may prefer to paella – made with seafood like cuttlefish, monkfish, prawns all cloaked in alioli, a thick garlic and olive oil sauce.
Afterwards you can check out La Escocesa, a self-managed artistic production center that focuses on the visual arts with the public in mind. The artist spaces, performance spaces, gallery spaces – a real hothouse of invention and an art factory on the site of a former textile factory that reminds you of what artist communities can be like when the right elements are present and in balance.
A number of artists have residencies here at the moment, including muralists Mina Hamada and Zosen, who we just saw in Brooklyn at the Vinz Feel Free “Innocence” show while they were in town to paint a huge wall in Jersey City – it is a small world.
Unfortunately in two years La Escocesa will be demolished to make room for affordable housing – it’s owned by the city council which purchased it from the banks.
Also if you come here you’ll want to check out a new mural by Reskate, an artistic collective formed by Maria López and Javier de Riba, who have a workshop and studio in the Sants district of Barcelona.
With an illustrative style full of life, you can see influences from popular culture, graphic design, pop and traditional sign-painting. Our hosts tell us they often paint referencing social themes – and they certainly are loved here. Here’s a shot of our little touring group at one point. See you all tomorrow!
As we near the new year we’ve asked a special guest every day to take a moment to reflect on 2016 and to tell us about one photograph that best captures the year for him or her. It’s an assortment of treats for you to enjoy and contemplate as we all reflect on the year that has passed and conjure our hopes and wishes for the new year to come. It’s our way of sharing the sweetness of the season and of saying ‘Thank You’ for inspiring us throughout the year.
Fernando Alcalá Losa is a talented photographer from Barcelona who has been shooting artists as they create their work on the street for some time. His momentary glimpses into an artists world, or of our world from their viewpoint, are a poignant gift that Fernando captures in a way that few other photographers can.
L’Hospitalet de Llobregat
Date: September, 2016.
Photograph by Fernando Alcalá Losa
How important is it to show street art pieces when you are taking pics of street art? Of course, it’s important. All of us love it, don’t we?
But after years of hitting the streets, lots of walking, climbing walls, being on rooftops and sneaking into other people’s houses in order to get the best possible shot of the final result, I’m starting to think that this is not the most important issue for me.
Everyone can go for a walk and shoot a wall. Everyone. But not everyone has the chance of being there during the creative process. And this is what this shot is about.
It’s about being there, right there, feeling the energy of creation. It’s about intimacy, about detail, about the personal connection with the artist, because you were able to be that close. And not everyone can be that close, that’s for sure…
I’m grateful for having the chance of living these moments of proximity, knowing that those artists that you’re shooting at trust you and allow you to be there, right there. And this is what really matters to me as a street art photographer right now.