Archives for category: catalunya experience

The last few months have been turbulent ones here in Catalonia, and it’s been nearly impossible not to get caught up in the action, hence the lack of publications during this time.

While the independence issue has been at the forefront for the last 7 years or so, since the Spanish government moved to decimate the “estatut” agreement which gave the Catalans more autonomy, and recognition of their cultural identity, it’s only this summer that things really began to heat up.

The president of Catalonia since 2015, Carles Puigdemont is a lifelong believer in the independence movement, in contrast to his predecessor Artur Mas, who was a fairly recent convert. In June, Puigdemont and the independence-minded majority of the Parliament decided to fulfill their election promise and call a binding referendum on the declaration of an independent Catalan Republic. There had been a vote in November of 2014, but it was largely symbolic, and mostly ignored by Madrid. This time, however, Madrid started using every weapon in its arsenal to prevent the referendum, which was slated for the 1st of October.

Over the summer, there was much back-and-forth between Madrid and Barcelona, which culminated in Spanish Civil Guard (paramilitary police, which evoke images for the Franco dictatorship for many) forcing their way into various Catalan government offices, in search of referendum-related materials. This was accompanied by the takedown (and re-birth) of referendum websites, the prohibition of referendum advertising on Catalan public media. There was also police intervention in public meetings to discuss the referendum. Needless to say, none of this sat well with the Catalan people, and massive street demonstrations, beginning on the 20th of September resulted in the imprisonment, without bail or trial, of two leading independence activists known as the “Jordis” for their share first name, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez.

Adding more fuel to the fire, the Spanish government decided to deploy 18,000 National riot police officers and Civil Guard, who were put up in cruise ships near the port.

The days leading up to the referendum were about as tense as I can remember having experienced since coming to live here, with all manner of threats being lobbed from Madrid toward Catalan leaders, citizens and media. The evening before the vote, people occupied the schools where the voting was to take place, organizing games, classes, workshops, and other activities to pass the time, and protect their polling places. The morning of the 1st was a rainy one, but people began to gather outside polling stations before sunrise, waiting to cast their votes, under the constant threat that the police moored at the port could appear at any time. The police did appear at some polling places, and exercised the restraint one would expect from a saber-rattling Madrid–some reports cite nearly 1000 injured, while others claim numbers in the single digits. The photo and video evidence which is abundant online seems to support the former numbers.

During these last few months, the citizen mobilization in the streets has been an impressive exercise in democracy which, whatever one’s feelings might be on the independence issue, has been unique for its lack of violence. A big part of those mobilizations has been the amount of postering and wheatpasting that has been done all over the city. As a street art blog, I felt it necessary to document some of it for you.

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There’s been a bit of radio silence on the blog lately, but between the beginning of course, having fallen down the rabbit hole of blockchain technology, and of course the current political situation, I’ve been neglecting the writing. I’m working on a piece on the Catalonia situation, which changes by the hour, as well as a recap of random shots I’ve taken over the past few months. In the meantime, I leave you with a pasteup I stumbled upon on the 1 of October, the tumultuous referendum day.

2017-10-01 18.57.45-1

The annual Festa Major de Gràcia, which takes place in mid-August, began as all the others I’ve witnessed here over the years: the week or two of frenetic preparations, the blocking of streets, the quiet buzz before the tsunami of tourists and locals that would descend upon our normally tranquil little village. However, on the 17th, which was the third day of festivities, the Rambla attacks took place, and cast a shadow on the remaining days of the festival. The Spanish president declared three days of mourning, and all the more raucous night time activities, such as concerts, were cancelled. The decorations stayed up, and the daytime, family-oriented activities continued as usual, but from Thursday evening on, there was an eerie calm in the crowds.

People still came, but the crowds were noticeably thinner, though as the initial shock wore off, more people began to make their way up.

The themes this year were varied, from the Petit Principe, to demons and devils, to rock and roll, to The Neverending Story, Ghostbusters, and the Bolshevik Revolution, to my personal favorite of any theme so far, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, complete with a giant figure of Divine as herself, the “Filthiest Person Alive”.

This year’s winning entry was themed after a ski resort in the Pyrenees, complete with falling snow.

 

When heading down Carrer Marina toward the sea, just across the street from the (thankfully) now-defunct Monumental bullfighting arena, you can dip into a small plaza with some basketball courts and benches called the Jardins Interior d’illa de Clotilde Cerdà. On the walls of these “gardens” you’ll find an eclectic collection of mosaic art, created by students from the escola Massana, and originate from student work which dealt with the theme of multiculturalism.

While this isn’t the typical street art, it’s a great little trip off-off the beaten track if you decide to take the hike from the Sagrada Familia down to the sea.

Just after the point where my street changes names from Bruniquer to Terol–it actually does so 4 times before finally ending–there is a dead end street/alleyway where you can find a blue doorway which has been decorated, and over-decorated constantly during the time I’ve had this blog. Saturday morning, I noticed that the artist TVboy had pasted up a giant image of Frida Kahlo dressed as a tourist, complete with an I ♥ BCN t-shirt. I snapped a quick photo, but as is often the case in sunny Barcelona, the time of day left a heavy shadow. On my way back home just two hours later, the sun had changed position , and I was hoping to get a better shadow-free shot. It wasn’t to be, however, as someone had come by and sprayed an orange cover over Frida, leaving just her eyes free. While I was a bit dismayed at not having been able to get my photo, I don’t personally see this as an act of destruction. I prefer to see it as part of the natural process, albeit quite accelerated, of what happens to art that is in the street, unprotected by vigilant museum security, alarms, glass casing, or velvet ropes.

Something similar happened to another piece by TvBoy which gained international media attention. The artist had pasted up an image of international football superstars Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo locked in a passionate kiss, just before one of the famous “Clasico” matches that take place between eternal rivals Barça and Real Madrid. It was near Plaça Catalunya, one of the most highly-traversed points in the Catalan capital. I won’t include a photo here, as my personal policy for this blog is that all photos must be taken by me, and in this case, I missed my opportunity, as not only did someone remove the image, but the entire abandoned petrol kiosk which hosted the image was removed. A bit overdramatic, in my opinion. In any case, here is a link to the Ronaldo-Messi photo, and another that was placed in Italy near the Vatican just this week of  Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump.

frida before after

These are some shots from around the Poblenou neighbourhood, taken around the first week of March. The majority come from the “Free Walls” project, but there are also a few from around the Glories area, and an abandoned building site which had a hole in its fence.

Some interesting details worth noting are the now-customary anti-Trump art, along with a small mural with legs, in front of which you can see a shopping cart. That shopping cart is not abandoned, and is actually used by the African migrants who use them to wander the city gathering scrap metal, and who’ve made a home in a nearby encampment. These encampments are very similar to the ones built up by the Roma people, who also make their living on scrap metal and recycling, though some Roma are fortunate enough to have large vans to transport their cargo.

As the warmer weather approaches, I expect to see more turnover of the work on the free walls, so I’ll post as often as possible. The free walls can be found here. Some of the other works can be seen here (approximately), near Poblenou Park.

Last week, while making one of my occasional pilgrimages to the Poblenou neighbourhood, I stumbled upon an open gateway, beyond which I could see some murals. It’s a spot I pass by frequently, just off the northern exit of the Parc del Centre del Poblenou. I normally take this route as there are some walls of a partially abandoned building which get painted every now and again.

I’m normally not one just to enter an open gateway uninvited (one of the myriad reasons I’ll probably never move from taking pictures and archiving to creating urban art), but this time my curiousity got the best of me and I decided to wander in.

The name on the entrance said Can Ricart, but upon entering, I checked my phone location and noticed I was in a place called Hangar.org, which describes itself as “a centre for arts production and research, offering support to artists”. The website is here and the facebook is here. And here is some info about Can Ricart.

I didn’t have a chance to chat with anyone, as most of the occupants of the space seemed hard at work, but I did manage to take a stroll around the premises and get some interesting photos, including one of the huge pillar which is visible from the street outside the walls, and which I had photographed previously from afar.

The majority of the shots in this post (including the first-ever shot of myself) are the work of the urban pop artist TVBOY. They are part of a series of famous artists from the past with touches of the present, including a Frida Kahlo Iphone selfie–the shot in which I couldn’t resist joining the famous Mexican artist for a rare narcissistic arm’s length self-portrait. The shot of Serge Gainsbourg comes from the artist Valerie Maho, and the great Muhammad Ali in stencil was created by RAF Urban. The other image (from sm172) which I’ve included is a darker reflection on our pop-selfie culture and is a statement on the voyeuristic bystander syndrome which seems to be a side effect of all of us being able to record and photograph all that we see, while forgetting to experience it, or get involved when necessary.

This year’s Festa Major de Gràcia featured a new entry into the decorated streets: la Plaza del Poble Rumaní, the theme of which was one of the biggest cultural contributions from Gràcia’s vibrant gypsy community: la Rumba Catalana. While the decorations themselves had a difficult time competing with the more experienced streets, one feature which stood out from the rest was a huge mural which was painted on the wall of a neighboring school.

The mural is a collaboration between local schools, the local gypsy community, and the organization acidH (Catalan Association for Integration and Human Development). The three artists who participated are well-known in the Barcelona street art scene and this blog: Xupet Negre, Caesar Baetulo (sm172), and konair.

The images on the mural are a mix of the artists’ trademark characters and icons of Catalan culture.

 

The phrase “operación retorno” refers to the slow, but steady reverse exodus back to the cities (and reality) after the August holidays. I’m fortunate to start off with a fairly abbreviated schedule in order to ease myself back into the routine. To close off the month of August, and the lazy, hazy summer of 2016, I present to you the second installment of the photo highlights from the Festa Major of Gràcia.