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Portugal: Street Art, Street Politics


There's street art to be found all over the world—some on walls, some in performance, occasionally statues. And while some is pure fantasy or decoration, a lot of it tends toward the political, especially when  there is turmoil and movement.

To enrich 1%, 99% are impoverished

Portugal in 2013 was at such a moment; its economy was still struggling in the aftermath of the worldwide 'great recession' of 2008-10 and austerity measures were being imposed on already poor people, similar to the scenario taking place also in Greece, Spain and a number of other countries.

Solidarity with others under the hammer: slogan is 'We are all Greeks'

So, it was no surprise as we spent a couple of weeks there at the time to see a flare of angry art, some aimed at the immediate circumstances, some at the power of the rich, and especially of rich countries over poorer.


But there was also a fair amount of apolitical, or perhaps less political, 'fantasy' art to be found on the walls and streets, and, as well, a few truly unusual installations. 


The recent weeks of isolation have given me a chance to walk down that part of memory lane again and share some of the images.

DSCN032908-aDSCN0411A recurrent theme: The government had recently announced a deal to buy several submarines from the German navy at the height of the austerity crisis as wages were being cut and debts coming due. The response? 'Our government bought a submarine because our country is sinking.'aDSCN0166

A popular theme was to depict Portugal as victim of German control of EU finances and of local politicians. Above, Angela Merkel is depicted as the puppetmaster with a shirt and necklace echoing the EU flag. To left and right, signs echo the theme and ask "How long do you want to keep watching this show? Our debts are eating us!"


Less formally executed, but with an eye toward location: This stairway in Coimbra, linking upper and lower parts of the town provided a canvas for comments, and an audience of people stopping for breath.


These red ladybugs (yes, they are not space creatures) wave on a sidewalk near Lisbon's city hall. When first installed in 1998 as a work commissioned for Expo 98, they were part of a swarm at the front of the building.


The lovely stonework was what first drew my attention to the windows below, but the enigmatic watcher completes the picture.


Speaking of enigmatic: There were scores of these around Lisbon's ancient Alfama district; I'm not sure still if there is some specific reference, or a general environmental plea, or just an artist's whimsy...and why only in English?


My wife's eye and ear for anything wool took us to Martim Munoz Square, where these ventilation pillars from the metro system had been wrapped in knitted squares.


Honestly: Do you see Homer Simpson here? I'm not sure...



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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