Street art in Girona Spain makes a lot of sense: it’s participative & supportive, highlighting diversity with a delicate touch!24 January 2024
Street art in Girona is far from being a major tourist attraction. The medieval buildings from the Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque eras are more attractive than the paint that escapes from a spray can! And I have to admit that for years I was happy to go there and lose myself in the maze of the old town to catch a glimpse of the magnificent treasures hidden behind the old stones! But over the last ten years or so, when I arrive in Girona, I can’t help but notice that the public spaces are filling up with astonishing works of colour. So I decided to approach Girona from a different angle, forgetting the old town and concentrating on the surrounding areas.
I was overwhelmed! Against all the odds, two urban art festivals are colliding in the city! And frankly, there’s very little communication about these events… Local communication, of course, but it’s not reaching our ears! I was extremely surprised by the content of these works aimed at the general public. From the small works to the XXL ones, there’s not a single one that’s just there as a backdrop… It makes sense, and even if you’re not familiar with the history of these festivals, you quickly realise that Street Art in Girona is designed to unite the population and get a message across. So I decided to highlight these two events, starting with the most recent festival, which, after a few works, allowed me to understand the complexity of the district I was in without having read a single line about it.
The Monar’t Festival celebrates cultural diversity
Heading into the Santa Eugènia and Can Gibert neighbourhoods, I wasn’t sure what to expect, either in terms of the population or the artwork. As soon as I saw the first painted walls, I realised that we were in a working-class neighbourhood with a great deal of cultural and ethnic diversity. Each of the works I came across reminded me of this. The monumental female face-off by Ilich Romeiser, Marina and Ivan Yagoda is a magnificent interpretation of this. The mixed population is reflected in the clothes of these two women. The past on the left, youth on the right; a work that sounds like a generational handover with a backdrop of social and racial diversity.
It’s not the only female face-off to highlight diversity. The artist Debra Espinosa has also represented diversity in her own way; more graphic, tone on tone, the work has a slightly retro feel. Talking about her work, called “Santa Eugènia de Ter”, she says: “We must never forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that took us there”.
When we talk about social diversity and working-class neighbourhoods in France, we quickly make what we might call a “keyboard shortcut”! Here at Santa Eugènia in Girona, more than 79 nationalities are represented… It’s a real ‘melting pot’ from every continent and country. North and South Africa, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe… Some international artists, such as Felipe Pincel, a Chilean artist, or Kathrina Rupit alias Kinmx, a Mexican artist, have brought their own ethnic representation that resonates with the origins of some of the neighbourhood’s residents.
Oriol Arumi, a local artist, decided to create an XXL tribute to Tomas Avala, a local resident who, until he was 97, worked actively for the Santa Eugènia Neighbours’ Association and fervently defended the vegetable gardens that still stand on the edge of the neighbourhood.
In keeping with the same representation of diversity, we find completely different artistic styles. Some of the works, such as those by Erna Toepfer, It’s mancho and an unknown artist, are in the form of illustrations and could even be considered naive art, bringing a dose of gentleness to the district.
In a completely different register, the artist Malpegados has taken the opposite view. He didn’t want to choose which nationality or representation to highlight, so he decided to create a dog character who looks proudly towards a future that is certainly rosier.
Of course, as in any working-class district, there are children playing ball in the street… and older children, whom I passed in the narrow streets, are also playing games, this time a little less legal… The artist who best depicted them in the streets of Girona is Enric Lucas alias Greendel15, who showed them carefree, happy, playful and also idle in the cold of winter.
Other topical themes also catch the eye of local residents. Admittedly, the Festival appears to be more socially committed than politically engaged, but behind the works we can guess a few stances or warning messages. Such is the case with the work by R3spublica and ala degato, which depicts a little girl masked under the air vents of a building”… The tagline “El planeta que dejamos” / The planet we’re leaving behind!
In just 5 editions, the Monar’t Festival has managed to change the face of a neighbourhood; every year, with the help of associations, it has become an eagerly awaited moment of shared life. Local residents take part in some of the works, run the activities, take part in them, and so on. It’s a real opportunity to unite and share, culminating in a major Festival of Cultures and Diversity. But as I said at the beginning of the article, this is not the only facet of Girona Street Art!
With the Milestone project, Girona’s street art goes international to become a museum
The Milestone Project has never hidden its ambition, and right from the 1st edition they announced the colour: to create an open-air museum with international artists… in their words, “big names”! Surprisingly, this year the Festival didn’t take place in Girona but in Ripoll, a small town in the lower Pyrenees… Their website, which used to show us a perfectly elaborate map of the works, has become static and now focuses on Ripoll too… As it was impossible for me to find out what was going on, I thought I’d just show you the contrast with the works produced for the Monar’t Festival.
I decided to start with the immense work… or should I say ‘the enormous’ work created by Italian artist Erica il Cane in the 1st year of the Festival in 2012! The tone and ambition were set, and some of the locals were astonished at the time to see that the Cocollona, the symbolic animal of Girona and Catalan legends, had been entrusted to an Italian! Today, the colour of the work has faded somewhat, but it remains gigantic, towering impressively over the railway bridge for passengers arriving by train.
When you arrive in Girona, whether by train, car or bus, you can’t avoid this famous overhead railway line… It’s the only way to get to the old town, and it was under this very line that I began to spot the first works. Here, artists Boris Hoppek and Cyop & Kaf have played with the architecture, with Hoppek‘s characters supporting the poles and those of the duo Cyop & Kaf navigating a very vertical imaginary world…
There’s something very playful about walking around the posts to find out what they’re hiding… And there’s also something very sporty about it, as you have to avoid the bicycles speeding along the cycle path in the centre! The artist Andrea Michaelsson, alias Btoy, has stencilled the faces of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Barcelona graffiti artist Kram has embedded one of his characters on a swing.
At the end of my journey under the posts, I discovered a rather incredible work by Ome y Nadie… A work that gives you the impression of being in a galactic underwater universe! A sensation reinforced by the sense of confinement created by the space beneath the track.
Staying close to the town centre, I came across a few works produced at the start of the Milestone project… Their colours have faded, but they still exist… to their credit. The 1st is by Agostino Iacurci, who now exhibits all over the world. His slightly surrealist Man in a Cage immediately brings to mind the rabbit cages that sprang up in the suburbs of Girona in the 1970s. The artist now exhibits his graphic work in Los Angeles, Prague and Seoul.
Another highly graphic work called “resistència” was created by the Reskate collective, made up of Maria Lopez and Javier de Riba. It shows a magnificent horse that appears to be fighting with a huge fly inside. Given the name of the work, it’s easy to see it as an allegory for the Catalans’ fight for independence against Castile… Since Girona is the stronghold of the Catalan independence movement, the significance of the work seems obvious…
The tallest work, close to Girona city centre, is by San Miguel Okuda, the most popular Spanish urban artist in the world. As in all his work, he fragments bodies into ultra-coloured geometric shapes. His work is instantly recognisable. This work, entitled “African housewife independence“, located in the Santa Eugénia district, is an obvious response to the African population living in the area… It fits in perfectly with the social works at the Monar’t festival.
With such monumental works, it’s true that Street Art in Girona reveals a different facet… In order to get a better grasp of this famous Milestone Project, which is by no means devoid of meaning as I had somewhat imagined at the outset, I decided to continue by car to get to the districts further away from the old town. It was with surprise and pleasure that I discovered a work by Mohamed l’Gacham. Born in Tangiers, he now lives in Barcelona. Coming from the world of graffiti, Mohamed has a gift for rendering the mundane scenes of everyday life in a magical way. He works from old photos in a style that mixes figurative, classic and sometimes impressionistic… He magnifies everyday life, as if to tell us to enjoy these simple moments. Here he has depicted a bourgeois interior, which could be that of anyone who has kept their old family furniture.
The end of my visit to Girona was marked by the work of an artist I particularly like. With a Spanish mother and Haitian father, he spent his early childhood in Spain before travelling the world and finally settling in the United States. In my eyes, Axel Void is one of the greatest contemporary urban artists, on a par with Gonzalo Borondo and Francisco Bosoletti… His work is rare… but so powerful. I was speechless when I saw this fragmented triptych on the campus of the University of Girona! The scene is striking, the colour violent! We see three characters eating close to a bowl. In my mind I immediately made the connection with the photographs that director Carlos Saura had taken in Spain during the Civil War. At the time, he was simply a photographer witnessing a time of scarcity and deprivation of freedom. Some of his photos showed peasants in front of a bowl of soup with a stump of bread in their hands… I wanted to know if the feeling I had in front of this work was just a figment of my imagination… Then I came across Axel Void’s line about his work: “Please give us wars so that we can really know what food tastes like”.
I’ll conclude my discovery of the Milestone Project with this work and leave you to discover the rest, just as breathtaking, when you visit Girona!
Is street art in Girona worth the trip?
A thousand times yes! It’s been a long time since I’ve felt such coherence between the works and the social, cultural and urban environment… An interdependence that makes sense. By trying to attract tourists at all costs with urban art, some cities end up losing the thread and offering only a succession of “Wow” works that don’t really mean anything. Street art in Girona seriously redefines the essential place of the artist in our daily lives, and it’s a real slap in the face, believe me! Of course you’re going to tell me that graffiti in Barcelona is king, that you can find the same atmosphere in Poblenou… To that I’d say you’re on the wrong track… There aren’t many art scenes like Girona’s and it would be a real shame to deprive yourself of it if you’re passing through the Costa Brava… What’s more, the old town is magnificent and the beaches not far away 😉
I hope you enjoyed this discovery as much as I did! So if you liked it, please share it, I’d love to 😉
As for me, I’m off to discover an ice rink in transition for my next article!
See you soon for more urban adventures.