ARE YOU DEAD? This recurring question challenged us during a walking tour of street art in Valencia, Spain. In this article we share our insights into this colourful aspect of Valencia’s subculture.
Bon Dia Valencia!
We woke up to the sounds of the city. From our hotel room, we watched as the grey skies parted to reveal the thematic white, blue and green of the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). What this more modern part of the city lacked in soul, it certainly made up for with its stunning architecture and design.
Uber took us to Mercado Colón for a breakfast of Horchata de Chufa (tiger nut milk) and warm slices of tortilla. A few tables away from us, a young lady puffed on a cigarette, lazily sending smoke rings into the crisp morning air while a solitary pigeon hung around in vain hopes of a stray morsel.
Like most markets in Spain, Mercado Colón itself an architectural spectacle with its Gaudi-inspired façade doubles as a community hub and is a great place for observing daily life.
We were soon joined by Lenny Chen, an Australian expat turned Valencia local. An experienced world traveller herself, that morning she led us on a food tour through Valencia’s neighbourhoods to sample some authentic local cuisine only found by those willing to go off the beaten path.
Later that afternoon, guided by Lenny’s in-depth knowledge and enthused by her keen interest, we delved into narrow streets around the old neighbourhood of El Carmen to explore the city’s street art. Below, we share our observations and insights from what we saw.
Street artists use their cities as a canvas, creating a window into the societies they live in. As we explored Valencia’s street art labyrinth, Lenny encouraged us to challenge our imagination, look beyond the obvious and engage with what we saw.
Street art is a conversation. It is a discourse between different aspects of society which often unveils that society’s imbalances, contrasts and points of convergence. It can be a shout, a cry for help or a celebration of love. Its message transcends an anti-establishment stereotype and presents a wider narrative on everyday life.
Some messages were immediately obvious while others were less so. A stencilled piece showing (then presidential candidate) Donald Trump in warm embrace with one time mayor, Rita Barberá, seemed to imply a sharing of questionable interests.
A recurring stencil by an artist of the same moniker asked, “ARE YOU DEAD” This startling question did not appear to be seeking any answers other than seeking to prompt the viewer into challenging their potentially passive attitudes and apathy towards society.
Street artist Blu’s gigantic ‘Moses with a beard of snakes’ mural presented another talking point. Unable to agree on its meaning, we concluded that it simply added character to the neighbourhood.
Anti-establishment messages complemented rather than clashed with feminist themes. Intricate stencil art by La Nena Wapa Wapa and cross stitch yarn bombing by Raquel Rodrigo introduced even more diversity to Valencia’s street art landscape.
Individual styles highlighted the unique voice of each artist, provoking internal and external conversations, something Valencia’s street art does with ease.
While manoeuvring our way through El Carmen, we came across pieces of street art which hinted at collaboration between various parts of Valencian society. Like many other cities, the lines of legality of street art in Valencia have become blurred.
Commissioned pieces turned buildings, hotel lobbies and garage doors into captivating murals. This collaboration between the artist and the community introduced a creative dimension to the city’s already rich cultural tapestry and suggested an accommodation by Valencian society of those who chose the medium of street art for their creative expression.
One of the more visually stunning pieces was a collaboration between local artists including Deih, Julieta, Barbi, Toni Espinar and Pichi and Avo. The piece, a powerful interplay between surrealism, traditional graffiti and fairy tale characters, was created as part of a local government supported contemporary art festival (Intramurs 2015).
Rather than regard them as vandals, it appeared the City of Valencia had found a way to leverage the creativity of street artists for cultural promotion. We encountered many other examples of this type of collaboration between artist and authority.
The various characters in Valencian society who would normally oppose each other had through street art collaboration, established a harmonious dynamic.
We soon began to identify artists by their trademark styles. David de Limón’s masked characters (the locals call them Ninjas) popped up in the most unlikely places. With no definite social agenda, his work often added another dimension or called attention to the work of other artists.
Deih soon became one of our favourite street artists. His comic-book-like, zombie characters and futuristic illustrations invited us to enter an alternative dimension to ours.
However, we found examples where rival street artists, perhaps in a bid to claim turf, had defaced the work of other artists either by painting over them or disrupting the presented work. Fortunately, in Valencia, reports of street art turf wars descending into violence are rare.
Creativity must always find an outlet. However, in Valencia, it would seem that some artists prefer competition over collaboration.
In Valencia, the walls speak.They challenge the observer to take notice of what is happening around them. They tell stories of love and anger, war and peace. They hint of internal societal conflicts but they also speak of coexistence.
With a new understanding and appreciation for street art, it felt right to end our adventure under a gigantic wall painting of a rabbit clutching the throat of a chicken. The characters (chicken and rabbit) are both key ingredients of the authentic Paella Valenciana, a fact we learned earlier in the day during the food tour.
This piece, a collaboration between Italian artist Erica il Cane and local artist Escif looked counterproductive for both animals. It seemed common sense for the rabbit and chicken to work together in some sort of ‘coalition-of-the-damned’ to escape their certain fate rather than fighting each other.
In a clear example of the relationship between life and art, this striking artwork presented a message about our tendency as humans to focus on the things that divide rather than unite us. Our common fate presents an opportunity for humanity to peacefully coexist and work together to overcome the many challenges that beset us.
A Walking Tour of Street Art in Valencia
It was American artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon who once said, “Art is an evolutionary act. The shape of art and its role in society is constantly changing. At no point is art static. There are no rules.”
This quote aptly captures the transient nature of, as well as the societal dynamic established through Valencia’s street art.
Echoing the sentiments expressed by blogger Passports and Plates, our interaction with Valencia’s street art gave us an appreciation for the city’s culture. Its direct and subliminal messaging challenged us to think about our own sometimes passive attitudes towards society and life.
So, when you encounter street art in Valencia, be ready to answer the question, “ARE YOU DEAD?”
HDYTI Tip: Check out our Esplorio diary for more Valencia street art.
Valencia is home to many world class museums and galleries. However, if you’re after an outdoor and visually stimulating urban experience, definitely check out its street art and join the conversation.
To book a food or street art walking tour with Valencia Urban Adventures, go to their website at www.valenciaurbanadventures.com
Exclusive to HDYTI: Our readers can enjoy 20% off Valencia Urban Adventure tours. Simply use code HDYTI20 when booking.
Disclaimer: Although we received a complementary walking tour from Valencia Urban Adventures, all opinions and views expressed in this article are ours.
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