Lost Art: The destruction of urban graffiti

It is a given that graffiti and street art is often a transient artform; existing works may be painted over by either the owners of the structure on which the artwork is found, removed (if it is from a well-known artist such as Banksy, or just painted over by another street/graffiti artist. However, as often as not street art in Portugal can remain in place for years, as previous examples from Meco and in Aveiro have shown.

Mainly down to the pandemic and successive lockdowns I haven’t been to Aveiro for a couple of years, at least, so a recent opportunity for a walk around the city was eagerly taken. Of course, the city has changed quite a bit, some new shops have opened, a lot of other shops have closed, and the main Avenida – from the railway station to the centre of the city – is undergoing a major revamp. But it was some of the street art that had disappeared that made most of an impact on me, of course.

Along a wall opposite one of the major car parks there used to be a piece of political graffiti that had been there for years, perhaps before the turn of the millennium, It was one of the first pieces I saw in Aveiro, and I first photographed it in 2012 (see the featured image), though it was certainly there before then and I am sure it was still there when we last went to Aveiro before the lockdown in March 2020. Now the old wall that hosted the work has been resurfaced and painted over an insipid beige colour.

The resurfacing of this wall only covered a space occupied by the new owners of the building, presumably, and further along the wall it has remained untouched, which is fortunate as there is another old piece of political art, from the Bloco Esquerda (a left wing party) protesting about a referendum to end the prosecution of women for having abortions. This particular piece dates from 2007, and the referendum was held in February of the same year.

Image taken in June 2012: ‘No more women in court: Decriminalise abortion’.

After an inconclusive vote, in which ‘no’ won 51% of the vote on a low turnout, a second referendum was held in which the result this time was a ‘yes’ vote of 59% and the law was changed by the Portuguese government in April 2007.

Image taken in October 2021

Interestingly, another piece depicting a vampire figure with the message ‘we scream but we have no voice: No! No!’ has appeared to the left of the Bloco Esquerda ‘yes’ piece. This wasn’t present when I took the photography in 2012, so it post-dates the referendum and although the message might refer to the abortion debate I am not sure to what it refers. However, it has clearly been there for several years and is showing quite a bit of erosion.

Image taken in October 2021: ‘We scream but we have no voice: No! No!

Almost immediately opposite these pieces is another new piece of street art situated along the wall of the building backing onto the car park. Originally built on the site of demolished buildings the site for this particular piece, ‘my sneakers’ dates from 2019 and I think is by ROTU, a five-piece gang of street artist from Madrid.

Image taken in October 2021: ‘My Sneakers’, ROTU 2019

I’m not sure whether is was commissioned or not, but it covers previous work on the same wall as shown in the other photograph from the same site, taken in 2012.

Image taken in June 2012

Lastly, near the Forum shopping centre, the main commercial site in Aveiro, there’s an overpass that connects the city from the university to the railway station and the main avenida. Underneath the overpass the concrete has provided a canvas for graffiti artists for years and there were some lovely examples of political stencilling and other striking art.

Image taken in June 2012

All this has been lost now, replaced with a piece commissioned by the city and sponsored by the car company SEAT.

Image taken in October 2021: SEAT Art Cities 2019 (by André da Loba, curated by Vhils)

Curated by the well-known artist Vhils (one of my favourite Portuguese street artists) this is a quite lovely three-dimensional piece by the artist André da Loba, from Aveiro, that covers the front, sides and rear of the supports. But it still leaves me a little sad that the raw artwork of the past has been lost. Some might argue that these other pieces are vandalism and deserve to be painted over, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Published by Keith Devereux

'Let me close my eyes and sense the beauty around me. And take that breath under the dark sky full of stars.' Mira Furlan

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