Málaga, a city filled with world-class art galleries and now home to some of the coolest street art on the planet.
The writing is on the wall for Málaga’s contemporary arts scene
Picasso’s hometown, the Andalusian city of Málaga, has successfully reinvented itself as a recognised Mediterranean hub for culture, cuisine and the arts. The city has lost its unfashionable image as the gateway to the package holiday resorts of the Costa del Sol, and is now consolidating its identity as a cool city break destination.
El Arte Callejero
However, Málaga’s creative offering isn’t simply limited to its lively, historic festivals, unique musical heritage or trendy tapas bars. Neither is it confined to the city’s world-class galleries such as the Museo Picasso Málaga, the Centre Pompidou Málaga, the Carmen Thyssen Málaga or the Contemporary Art Centre. It goes beyond these; Málaga’s most dynamic art is found on the city’s streets. This is especially true in the hip SOHO district, now christened The District of the Arts, a revitalised area that is becoming a favorite for new creative businesses, bars, and restaurants.
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Buildings in this city centre neighbourhood, found just south of the main Alameda thoroughfare, are now the canvases for both emerging and established artists who use spray paint, stickers and stencils to share their perspectives on the world. The artists have different motivations and inspirations for their work, but they share a common passion to reach an urban audience; residents and visitors, many of whom might never see art in a gallery or museum.
Expect to find works by international street artists such as Obey a.k.a Frank Shepard Fairey from the US; China’s DALeast; D*FACE a.k.a. Dean Stockton from the UK; Ben Eine also a Brit; Belgium’s ROA; Andalucía’s Andi Rivas; Pejac a.k.a. Silvestre Santiago from Santander; and other Spanish artists including Manuel León, Javi Calleja, and Felipe Pantone.
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Graffiti is nothing new in Mediterranean cities, but Málaga’s scene surpasses the uninspiring tagging of experimenting juveniles. Here, the vibrant, thought-provoking and entertaining works that cover walls of apartment buildings, enlivening bricked-up doorways or marking the city’s river bank are recognised pieces of street art. These are created by acclaimed ‘graffiti writers’, graphic designers, and street artists whose urban works conform to many of the mainstream criteria for art.
Yet it’s no secret that there’s a thin line between street art and vandalism. The renaissance of graffiti over forty years ago was not intended to be mainstream art. Anonymous works or cryptic tags were swiftly created with spray cans on metro trains, walls and derelict buildings. Youths copied around the world, but often the results were little more than ugly and damaging to private and public property.
SOHO District of the Arts
Yet Málaga has actively nurtured its contemporary graffiti arts scene, a volte-face against the notion of graffiti as mindless vandalism. Driven by the city’s Contemporary Arts Centre, the once dilapidated inner city neighbourhood of SOHO has been revitalised by the MAUS initiative (Málaga Arte Urbano SOHO), where local and international artists have been invited to come to SOHO and get creative. It’s actively contributing to the renewal of this once shabby neighbourhood, making it fashionable again. The city has pedestrianised and re-paved the streets, planted orange trees and put in contemporary benches; whilst quirky, creative businesses have made the area their home.
It makes for a great way to see a fresh perspective of this lively, welcoming, unpretentious Mediterranean city. SOHO is in the centre, so it’s easy to make a walking tour of the district whilst also seeing the city’s other mainstream attractions. As well as the street art, you’ll find photographers’ studios, intimate art galleries, performance spaces, and small boutiques, including a hipster barber and cool comic shop.
To make it easier to appreciate the works there is a digital map available from MAUS, and in addition many of the graffiti pieces have plaques beside them with QR codes for scanning with a smartphone.
Start at the city’s Contemporary Arts Centre; here you will find the vivid El Perchel Bridge, painted by Felipe Pantone. Then you can take in the works along the river bank including compositions by Ben Eine and Javi Calleja. The view across the river allows you to admire the giant murals on the apartment building opposite by OBEY and D*FACE. Then head further into SOHO to see works by Boamistura, the graphic arts group and plenty of other surprises. There are free expression walls, where uncontrived, unsponsored works are found. Just remember to look up too, as there is a lot of visual interest on the higher walls of buildings too. For example, at the top of one of the residential blocks is an iconic piece by Chinese artist DALeast; powerful strokes of black spray paint collide and build into a captivating composition of a bird; or is it a nest? Or shards of metal? Or ribbons? The enigmatic work at first feels dark, yet it is full of energy – this is fine art street art.
If you want to do more than ‘scratch the surface’ of this living, open air graffiti gallery then take a walking tour with a private guide, contact MAUS or the Contemporary Arts Centre for details of possible up-coming free tours.
Whilst in the city, there is another area of fascinating and striking street art and graffiti. A few minutes’ walk north east of the centre’s old quarter is the blue-collar neighbourhood of Lagunillas. It’s a run-down area where residents have put back the colour and life into their community with art projects. Explore the streets of Calle Vital Aza and Calle Lagunillas, to find bold, sexy, humorous, controversial and cryptic art created by the locals.
There’s a phrase in Spain that goes, ‘En Andalucía, hay mucha arte’ – meaning the people in Andalucia have a zest for life, a quick wit and creativeness. Well, if you come to Malaga you’re certainly sure to find plenty of ‘arte’.
Text and Images by @andrewaforbes