Street Art Pictures: London, Spain, Morocco and Portugal

First, a disclaimer: I don’t profess to be any kind of expert in street art. Or even a novice, really. I just know that, when I spot a fresh stencil or spy some sick piece, it makes me smile—and, if I happen to have a camera with me, snap some photos.

I guess the thing about street art is the sense of place it evokes—which one naturally notices more when one is traveling, seeing a city with fresh eyes. As the world gets smaller, regionalism can be hard to find; this is especially true in the Westernized world. Traveling in Western Europe, you constantly see the same chainstores, the same brands, the same fashions—girls are wearing whatever’s hip at H&M everywhere from Malmo to Madison (and I’d like to say myself excluded, but that would be a lie). Street art, whether it’s good or not, shatters through that; its viscerality marks a place, claims it, and if you’re traveling, can often reveal a lot more about where you are than reconstructed period buildings and restaurants with picture menus (really, paella all kinda looks the same).

I hung around some East Bay graf kids for a time, and still smile when I see their tags around town. A repeated stencil, a tag, a distinctive style—they’re like recurring images from a dream, someone else’s dream, and you catch little glimpses, train your eyes to look down alleys and up at overpasses, and you feel like you’re in on something. It grounds you in a very tangible way, connects you with the phantoms that sneak around at 3am with backpacks full of clanging illegality, with their finger-staining passions and illicit dreams. Of course, I was never one of them; a certain romance remains when it’s not you getting arrested or jumped in some strange turf battle. But I will say you interact with a city—its architecture and landscape, its thingness—differently when you’re even vaguely in tune with its street art. And when you’re traveling, it can often be your only contact with the night-crawling kids that in large part create the pulse of a place.

My first stop on my trip was London, where I of course went on an all-day goose chase for Banksy (chronicled here). The hunt also took me past several of these digitized little fellows by Invader..

Super poor picture quality, but what can you expect from a 2am street lamp and a mediocre camera? This I spotted in Madrid, near Plaza Sol. If you can't tell, it's two tangoing figures with security cameras for heads.

Granada generally had some piss-poor graffiti and stencils, but this one made me laugh. Totally fitting for a college town.

I spotted this one several times around the beach breakers in Tarifa. The sentiment jived well with the surf-town vibe, and the fact that it was in English spoke to the internationalism of the unassuming little place-between-places.

As you might guess, there wasn't a whole lot of street art going on in Morocco, or at least in the places I went. What one does see a lot of is stenciled Muslim calendars, on the side of buildings, with icons depicting certain holidays and dates. My favorite was the rose. I of course have no idea what it denoted or what the Arabic says, and retained none of the heavily accented, half-French explanations.

But of course, the best stencil piece I saw was in one of my favorite dirt-road beach towns, Mirleft. Popular with vacationing Marrakeshis, artists, dreadlocked travelers and, well, me, Mirleft seemed a perfect place to find this, peeling away on a side street.

Back in Europe, much of Lisbon's street art had a distinctive Brazilian flavor, which makes sense considering the city's large Afro-Brazilian population, and the fact that São Paulo and Rio are some of the biggest and baddest producers of street art in the world. I saw this stencil around the center, around uber-hip Barrio Alto.

And this was a simply incredible wheatpasted portrait over near the Alfama district.

Another college town, Coimbra had a fair amount of politicized stencils. This one was especially interesting given the prevalence of domestic violence in Portugal, and the pervading stigma against seeking help: "Every 2 weeks, a Portuguese victim of domestic violence dies." The number is a little more somber when you consider the small country's population of 10 million.

On the flip side, this was just awesome.

And I quite liked this one as well.

But the place that really took the cake was Porto. Good ole unsuspecting Porto, forever in the shiny, smiley shadow of Lisbon. These were all taken near hip-slick-and-cool Rue Miguel Bombara.

The paper cranes were part of the 1000 Tsuri Project. They acted like punctuation, all over the walls of the street, serving as both a kind of visual break and space filler between the other pieces.

Part of a larger project by artist Costah; check more out here:

This little girl is up a few places; each time, she's touching something different. From what I could tell, this was the logo of a nearby art gallery/collective.

One my favorites. Simple but expressive, and totally took me aback when I spotted it down an alley.

I don’t know if these reveal any more about the places I was in, but to me they do. And if nothing else, they’re better than cell phone ads.

11 Responses to “Street Art Pictures: London, Spain, Morocco and Portugal”

  1. 1 pam November 23, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I loved this piece which gave me new insight into your travels. Next time I travel abroad, I will be on the lookout. As for tagging the new benches around Lake Merritt…lame!

  2. 2 halamen November 24, 2009 at 7:38 am

    I love graf shots–searching for them, taking them, looking at yours. You’ve been to Valpo, haven’t you?

  3. 3 Abbie November 24, 2009 at 9:49 am

    I’m no street art pro, either, but those are pretty cool!

  4. 4 Shannon OD November 24, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    The peeling stencil of the little boy is my favorite. What a great post, I’ve never really taken the time to photograph much of the street art I’ve seen on my travels, but this has me inspired to pay more attention. 🙂

  5. 5 Fly Girl November 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    What a beautiful post. I think street art reflects the nuances of a place the way that people don’t. My faves were Marrakech and Granada. The street art I saw in Rio was quite good, there were a lot of expressive murals.

  6. 6 Nancy November 25, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Love this post. Street art definitely evokes place and culture. Some of my favorite street art has been in Graz, Austria. The wheatpasted shot in Alfama is stunning…

  7. 7 Sarah November 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I love stencils. Oaxaca has some phenomenal ones – here there are entire galleries devoted to it (I know that’s a big whopping paradox) and it’s a really active subculture. Good stuff, thanks!

  8. 8 Lesley December 8, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Lovely post. Funny how you walk by this stuff all the time, but don’t realize it. Makes me want to go out and get some shots of Mexico!

  9. 9 Amory January 21, 2010 at 10:36 am

    الاتحاد الاشتراكي للقوات الشعبية

    the Socialist Union or Popular Forces. (Morocco)

    It is typical across the Middle East/North Africa for the majority of “street art” to not be street art at all but rather the youth going out and showing who they support politically. For example, look at the wall in Palestine, among the international artists going there, the a majority of spray paint on the wall voices support for movements, حماس Hamas, فتح Fatah, شعبية PFLP, and الجهاد الاسلامية Islamic Jihad among other groups sprayed on the wall.

    • 10 laurenquinn January 21, 2010 at 10:43 am

      That definitely appeared to be the case in Morocco. But the little kid piece from Mirleft was art for sure. The rest, I dunno–my Arabic is dismal!

  1. 1 Temporal Permanence: Ruins, Street Art and the Narrative Beneath « Lonely Girl Travels Trackback on March 9, 2010 at 1:17 am
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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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