Barcelona's Museum of the Open Sky

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I found myself in Barcelona in the beginning of autumn, when the weather was still warmish. And so I vowed to myself I would spend as much time as I can outdoors. No musty museums or churches. I simply wanted to walk around aimlessly under the open sky.

But I was equally determined to still see some art. So on a whim, I signed up for a free alternative walking tour with Original Barcelona Tours. I was soon in a colorful mix of strangers, a couple from Porto, a retired lady from Australia and 2 young girls from the same town in Eindhoven who had only met in Spain. We were led by Patrick who was originally from the US.

At first, I was skeptical. I'm not usually the "tour" type of traveler. I often wanted to discover things on my own, at my own pace. But on the other had, I also knew I would learn so much about this city in only a few hours- plus I had company.

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Patrick took us through a maze of artwork- paintings, posters, mixed media, stickers, cans, odds and ends that I would never have paid any attention to before this trip. I would have wandered around looking without really seeing what was on the walls.

He described the risks involved. The artist had to create his art very quickly to not get caught. Otherwise, he would face huge fines. When an artist created his art right then and there, he often got more respect than if his art was "home-made" and then installed in public spaces. A handful of artists have even received recognition for their work after displaying it in the streets and later on "selling out" when they started making huge sums for commissioned pieces.

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We soon became acquainted with the works of Hopare, a Parisian artist who often drew the visage of  women in colorful notes of orange, yellow, and pink. And with the same air of nonchalance, the artist Molly Mowcka drew pieces of a woman whose face is actually two faces coming together.

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The first story that caught my attention was the story of cans and 2 lovers who had left messages for each other out in the open. They were thought of to be 2 people and referred to collectively as the artist "Milata" (my can in Spanish). These artists used beer and soda cans and painted letters on them, often with a play on words.

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I never thought of street art that way- as an open conversation left to be discovered in most unlikely places.

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What fascinated me about Barcelona's Museum of the Open Sky was how fleeting it was, how reflective it was of life and human nature. Literally, no walk would be the same. A piece of art can be vandalized, teared out, or painted on. New ones would sprout soon enough.

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But despite that, some artwork cannot be erased or muted. When the message is so clear and so moving, the city and its inhabitants often find ways to preserve them. Some of them are the works of BL2A who is local to Barcelona. His work is slightly abstract, he is always doing faces. Even when his decopage art was stickered over and he made a reaction piece of himself screaming at the injustice.

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I was pleasantly surprised when Patrick took us to a wall that was clearly being protected from vandals. I came face to face with one of the last remaining works of Keith Haring- his
AIDS awareness mural outside the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA).

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Keith Haring was a famous American artist and activist who had a very visual style. His art was often very controversial and political. In 1988, a year before he came to Barcelona he tested positive for AIDS. He probably chose this neighborhood of El Raval because back then, it was inhabited by the lowest part of society. Drugs and prostitution were also prevalent.

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His message was clear and lasting: "All together we can stop AIDS".

A lot of artists seem to have found purpose in displaying their art on Barcelona's talking streets. We found one piece by Guate Mao, from France. His pieces are always racially charged, portraying people that clearly have African heritage.

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An interesting twist to the open conversation on the walls of Barcelona is how some artists have resorted to copying. One such example is this piece made of spray cans which originally read '"REPARTIENDO ARTE" ('sharing art' in Spanish). However, someone did not appreciate how they have copied Milata's style, so they removed the A and the R to change the meaning. This person sent a message back to the original artist saying "REPARTIENDO TE" ('sharing yourself').

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Patrick explained it this way: "Street art is not about doing art on the street per se, it is more about self expression and sharing yourself with complete strangers on the street."

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As our alternative street-art tour was winding down to a close, we walked to Agora Juan Andres Benitez which was a large derelict space in Barcelona’s Raval district. This place commemorates a recent tragedy in 2013, the death of Raval resident Juan Andres Benitez while he was under police custody in public view. Art on walls inside and outside the agora, or public space, served as witness to the event. Many more have sprouted in defiance to the crime which had been perpetrated here.

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Out of the many, what caught my attention was a piece of the wall which had the face of a policeman surrounded by many eyes. There were words around them in many different languages that seemingly had the same meaning. But they did not all mean the same. For instance, one said in Spanish:

"Si agreden a una, respondemos todas"
translates as "If they attack one, we all respond"

And opposite that were Tagalog words from my native Philippines which said:

"Susuportahan kita kahit na sa paanong paraan na makakaya ko"
which means "I will support you in whichever way I can"

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And perhaps that is the message I wanted to leave with.

That we can all communicate, miscommunicate, argue, preach, inspire and impart ourselves through art. Because in fact, art has the power to unite us all.

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Know Before Your Go

  • Original Europe Tours started in 2010 offering free walking tours and pub crawls in Berlin. They have been operating in several cities in Europe for over 7 years, where they strive to be the most original and authentic tour operator, for all kinds of travellers. I'm grateful to Alex who arranged all the tours for me and made sure I felt welcome.
  • They offer a variety of tours around the city including Original Barcelona Tapas Tour and pub crawls which I have both tried. It was a great way to experience the city and make new friends. Our host Kehly from South Africa was so gregarious and she made sure everyone had a great time.
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    • Where to stay: I absolutely loved Rodamón Hostel Barcelona for its central location, decor and vibe. I almost didn't expect to find the hostel in such a posh neighborhood, very close to a metro station. I was welcomed by Hercules from Greece and they really made sure I had everything I needed. 
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    They also offer not just dorm rooms but also private rooms. I loved their breakfast, especially the tomatoes with bread which is how locals start their day.

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    • Barcelona is easily navigable on foot and by metro. It's the perfect way to explore the city, just like the locals do. The city is also not that big so a weekend will give you enough time to have an impression. But consider yourself warned, there's a big probability you'll be back.
    • If you're wondering how safe the city is, it's very safe but of course you also have to be careful with yourself and your things. I was traveling alone and I went everywhere and used only public transportation.

    Lois Yasay Ribeiro is a writer from the Philippines. She spent the last 6 years traveling. She is currently based in Europe with her family and is available for press trips and writing assignments.

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    1. nice and interesting article to read

    2. Its a nice place to visit.I'd like to go there and see it.

    3. I had the opportunity to be in Barcelona some time ago and I will say honestly that it is a beautiful city, I love architecture especially there. People are also very nice, very many interesting monuments, so there is something to watch, really a week is not enough to see everything accurately, and I like it that way. I'm gonna return there for sure.

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