Photos courtesy of Boa Mistura
Participatory urban art is an effective way for us all to learn to act like urban artists—that is, to engage unexpectedly and unrestrictedly with the cityscape. Boa Mistura, a group of five friends from Madrid whose specializations range from graphic design to civil engineering, works with neighbors to brainstorm ways to improve their urban space through art. Once an intervention is agreed upon, the neighbors paint side-by-side with Boa Mistura. During the artistic process, a double transformation occurs: both built environment and the way the neighbors interact with it change. The neighbors experience an increased sense of belonging and attachment to their surroundings. Boa Mistura creates a feeling that the future is hopeful and the ability to imagine a better city still intact. The focus is on hope instead of hate.
An intervention that earned Boa Mistura a nomination for the 2nd International Award for Public Art in 2015 was Luz nas vielas [Light in the Alleyways]. Boa Mistura traveled to Vila Brasilandia, one of the favelas on the hills on the outskirts of São Paulo, in January 2012 in order to collaborate with the neighbors on an art project. After spending some time exploring the favela, Boa Mistura realized that an important part of everyday life consisted of the walk up and down the hill. Thought, daily life and culture occurred on those dark, dirty, and grey alleyways. By modifying them, the lived urban experience of the favela would change. With the help of the neighbors, Boa Mistura painted five alleyways in brilliant, solid colors with positive messages that reflected the spirit of the inhabitants: BELEZA [Beauty], FIRMEZA [Strength], AMOR [Love], DOÇURA [Sweetness] and ORGULHO [Pride]. (See Photo Gallery and video)
Although Boa Mistura has not succumbed to the alienation produced by modern urban life under capitalism and has not acquired a defeatist attitude, it does recognize that in cities that make it very difficult for graffiti and urban artists to work—Madrid being a prime example—it is very challenging to stay positive. The recently approved controversial Law of Citizen Safety in Spain better known as the Ley Mordaza [The Gag Law] grants police the power to impede social protest. One of the law’s articles stipulates that citizens who protest in front of the buildings of Congress and the Senate may be fined up to 30,000 euros.[i] This limitation of free expression is a direct affront to urban artists’ modus operandi of unrestricted and open interaction. Instead of wandering down the road of cynicism—a very real option—activists responded with their radical imagination. On April 10, 2015, the world witnessed the first public protest with holograms. If physical bodies will be prohibited from protesting in front of Parliament, then immaterial projected 3-D images of real citizens will demonstrate in their place. By engaging their imagination, the activists invented a way to side-step the law and express their dissent. As I have said elsewhere, the fight for a just city is not an easy one, and will require the continued radical imagination of future urban artists everywhere.
[i] See Ley Orgánica 4/2015, de 30 de marzo, de protección de la seguridad ciudadana, Article 36.2.