2019 Fall External Programs IFSA Ritapa Neogi Spain

Visual Protest in Cities, Catalonia Style

To me, street art is a sign of life in the city. Though there are many different motives to vandalize, reclaiming the privatized metropolis through art and writing is a revolutionary act. An urban area devoid of graffiti symbolizes a lack of vitality, rebellion, and community in a time the world desperately needs all three.

Moving into my apartment in L’Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample — or “Gaixample” — I was surprised to see so many scribbles within neighborhood borders. Back home in Portland, acts of vandalism are quickly buffed through government efforts to ameliorate property values. A few years ago, a famous professional artist was forced to paint over a piece because he did not file a permit. Even in Philadelphia, tags are nonexistent in middle and upper-class areas.

Here, graffiti does not seem to draw negative attention. Garages, front doors, and storefronts house monikers with no intention of removing them.

It seems that in the U.S., vandalism is associated with gang violence, while European graffiti is largely political. In Barcelona, it often surrounds the Catalan independence movement. This reminds me of Kolkata — my parents’ hometown in West Bengal — with its scattered wheatpastes and posters, usually representing party affiliation. In general, whenever I am abroad, it has occurred to me that graffiti isn’t just an art form. It’s a mode of protest.

There’s also plenty of writing pertaining to tourism and expats. I noticed this most in Barri Vell of Girona, where HBO’s “Game of Thrones” was filmed at multiple landmarks. One marking read, “Barri, no una plaça per al turisme,” or, “Neighborhood, not a plaza for tourism.” Another said, “Expat = colonialist.” It should be noted that while there is visible concern about tourism in Catalonia, there is little protest towards immigration. The problem is not outsiders, but the homogenization of Catalonia’s diversity and uniqueness.

Alleyway in Barri Vell of Girona.

As a newcomer, I don’t know enough about topics like tourism and the independence movement to offer opinions. However, I’m looking forward to learning more. I have no doubts that Catalonia possesses a vibrant history, language, and culture that is unique to its region. It’s fascinating to learn about it through a visual perspective, especially through the eyes of Barcelona’s permanent residents. In honor of National Catalonia Day (Wednesday, September 11), visca Catalunya!

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