Writing not on the wall for Lisbon graffiti artists

Fri Oct 16, 2009 10:07am EDT
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By Shrikesh Laxmidas

LISBON (Reuters Life!) - When Lisbon town hall repainted the graffiti-covered walls of the bohemian Bairro Alto district, the move was welcomed by most, but graffiti artists say the urban art gallery they got in compensation is a farce.

Ricardo Campos, who wrote a thesis on "the anthropology of graffiti," said the art form "came late to Lisbon, some 20 years after its boom in New York, but when it arrived in the 1990s it really exploded."

From luxurious Lapa to drab Almada, every district in the Lisbon area was affected by that explosion, with graffiti covering walls, buses, trains and even national monuments.

But it was Bairro Alto, a grid of narrow alleyways throbbing with armies of revelers each weekend, that suffered most, its historic buildings illegally tainted by primitive paint-spray scrawled signatures known as tags.

Residents and traders complained loudly and late last year Mayor Antonio Costa ordered a clean-up operation that within months led to the re-painting of nearly 16,000 sq m (172,200 sq ft) of walls in Bairro Alto.

The town hall declared the operation a huge success and hopes it can be replicated in other parts of the city.

But the project also brought controversy with the Galeria de Arte Urbana (GAU) - a series of panels on a hill near Bairro Alto where selected graffiti artists are invited to paint.

The city's burgeoning graffiti movement says offering panels for artists to paint on is short-sighted and artificial as graffiti has to be on walls, be it legal or not.   Continued...

<p>A woman walks past a wall decorated with with comics characters on a street in Lisbon August 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro</p>