Participatory Urban Art: Boa Mistura and Hologramas por la libertad

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.

Horto Continues to Live


Brazil has a serious shortage of housing (about a 12% of the population has none or lives in jeopardized structures). Historically, companies and other entities adopted a policy of providing housing for their employees as a form of incentive in order to be able to attract them to uninhibited areas. Such was the case of Horto in Rio de Janeiro where Emperor Dom Joao IV decreed housing for the employees of his newly constructed gun powder factory in the early 19th century. The factory later moved and the housing was appropriated to the enclosed botanical garden‘s employees.

Those employees are long gone but the houses were passed to their descendants that are currently forging a longtime legal battle against the government, which claims that those houses and land are public property. Added to the drama, in the 200 years since construction, Horto and the Botanical Garden neighborhood…

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Interview: Bahia Shebab

الفَنّ العَرَبِيّ

Egyptian-Lebanese street artist, designer and Islamic art historian Bahia Shebab talks about how she was able to respond to Egypt’s revolution through creating street art. “It’s the language of the time now.” Her project “A Thousand Times No” uses the arabic “لا” (pronounced ‘la’), a thousand times through the use of street art. See below.

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2nd Mural Festival at Escocesa Art Factory in Barcelona

These are pictures I took at the Escocesa Art Factory in 2008 when I visited it with KRAX.

Various featured artists will be painting new murals for the 2nd Mural Festival this week, September 25-29, 2013.

2nd Mural Festival at Escocesa

The Escocesa Art Factory has an interesting story. It forms part of the Fábricas de Creación project in which six industrial factories were transformed into spaces for artistic creation: Fabra i Coats in Sant Andreu, Hangar and La Escocesa in Poblenou, La Seca in Ciutat Vella, Illa Philips in La Marina and La Central del Circ at the Fòrum. La Central del Circ is dedicated to circus, La Seca to theater, Illa Philips to dance, Hangar and La Escocesa to visual arts, and Fabra i Coats to music. The factories provide social centers, spaces for artists, public housing, private lofts and offices. La Escocesa is owned by the Barcelona City Council, but is self-managed by a collective known as L’Associació d’Idees.

Backers as Co-Owners of Kickstarter and Verkami Projects

Since my article “The TriBall Case: ‘Okupación Creativa ¡Ya!’ vs.
Okupa Hacktivismo,” I keep returning to the notion of co-authorship of the city with city developers, co-authorship of software with software developers, and co-authorship of culture through the abolition of copyrights. Urban space and the body are connected by the practice of the city as open code, as co-author who can alter the city. Crowdfunding programs like Kickstarter and Verkami are also platforms through which to become co-owners of culture.

Jon Reiss, producer and director of Bomb It, a documentary about graffiti and public space, has just completed his highly-anticipated follow-up, Bomb It 2. In order to be able to widely distribute his second feature film on graffiti, he is currently conducting a Kickstarter campaign. The Bomb It team is fighting for the right to succeed at filmmaking outside of the studio system, and need help. In Reiss’ “Appeal Video Flubs,” he talks about backers as co-owners of his film. I like that. He also discusses how difficult it is to make appeal videos.

The following call to finance la Galeria de la Magdalena, an art project to give new life to an abandoned lot in Barcelona, is an example of an interesting and effective appeal video.

 Crowdfunding is another tool that activists can use along with art to reactivate spontaneous social cooperation and unexpected engagements with the cityscape.

Extra Yarn and Yarn Bombing

extra yarn 2

I just recently read Extra Yarn, a children’s story about Annabelle, a little girl who finds a magic box with an endless supply of yarn. She not only knits sweaters for herself, but also for trucks, trees, mailboxes and whatever she finds in public space. Her engagement with her environment is unexpected because inanimate objects do not normally wear sweaters.  Her questioning of accepted behavior in public space and actions (what would be deemed vandalism) eventually transform her dull community into a colorful, more vibrant one. Why is Annabelle’s activity idealized in fiction, but criminalized in reality?

A real-life Annabelle, Magda Sayeg, practices yarn bombing, the tagging of public space with yarn. As the two images above attest, like Annabelle, she has even knitted a sweater for a bus.

Other examples of yarn bombing can be found here.