I mentioned in the previous post that Carlos, our driver, while taking us to our apartment, gave us an overview of Lisbon’s main points of interest. It was rather a shock to the system when he turned down our street to catch an eyeful of graffitied walls in the entire neighbourhood. I asked Carlo if this was an expression of art to which he replied, “No, it’s just vandalism.”  His mercedes stood in stark contrast to our surroundings.

While Bairro Alto looks frightfully menacing, our Airbnb host, Nuno, assured us that the area was very safe and crime free compared to some North American cities. Still, my heart sank at the prospect of this being my “home away from home” for the next couple of months.

As I try to get my head around living in colourful Bairro Alto, a popular part of town, a young people’s magnet what with Bohemian clubs and nightlife, I’m finding out that Portugal has a controversial outlook toward the graffiti problem.

I learn that this is by no means a new problem. In fact, political murals and graffiti became the voice of protest and propaganda following the April 25, 1974 Revolution. Since then, graffiti seems to have become woven into Portuguese heritage and today is embraced as an art form along with their more conventional tile-clad facades and cobble-stoned street designs.

A point of contention exists among Lisbonites regarding graffiti. Some, like Carlos, think it is wanton vandalism while others think it’s art.  While I agree with Carlo what we have on our travessa is the work of aimless youth gone wild with with spray cans, there is an impressive body of legitimate works of street art by notable local as well as international artists throughout the city. Here are some examples

Even senior citizens got in on the act. Click on this link

In 2008, the Lisbon City Council Department of Cultural Heritage implemented a solution by creating the Galleria de Arte Urbana (GAU), alongside the city’s rehabilitation graffiti removal scheme. The GAU afforded Bohemian street artists designated spaces to express their craft and voices.  The first phase of their campaign was dedicated to win over denizens that resisted and distrusted the project, and to foster trust between the artists and the general public. GAU became recognized for its role as ‘facilitator’ in the world of street art. Attracting a growing number of interlocutors devoted to this project, it is today regarded as an authority on urban art  nationally as well as internationally.

Lisbon’s mayor, Fernando Medina commented, “It is that same capacity of merging visual language and political and social critique that, throughout the decades, has been distinctive to Lisbon’s street art. This perception has been one of the main reasons to establish the very peculiar project GAU (Urban Art Gallery). This project aims at promoting, protecting as well as adding value to street art as an artistic practice setting it aside from the mere acts of vandalism (those being destitute of meaning, empty).”

In May, 2016, Lisbon hosted its first annual Muro Street Art Festival, an open door event to the entire population.
National and international “creators of undeniable prestige” transformed huge ‘wall canvases’to fantastic works of art while onlookers and festival goers took in side shows of live concerts, street entertainment, theatre, puppetry, trail bike, paintball and street food. Well, I’ve learned that Lisbon is the grand daddy of graffiti.

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