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IN PICS: Velazquez’s ladies-in-waiting spruce up struggling Galician town

In 2008, sick of watching his derelict neighbourhood dying a slow death, Spanish artist Eduardo Hermida walked out of his studio and painted a mural inspired by Diego Velazquez's masterpiece "Las Meninas".

IN PICS: Velazquez's ladies-in-waiting spruce up struggling Galician town
All photos by Miguel Riopa / AFP

It was a spontaneous protest begging authorities to do something in Canido in the industrial northwestern town of Ferrol, dubbed Spain's Detroit for its shrinking population and abandoned homes.

His friends joined in. As the years passed, so did other artists from as far afield as Taiwan and before he knew it, Hermida had created an annual urban art festival that has helped breathe life into the neighbourhood, attracting visitors and new residents.

In April, a mural sporting the alleged signature of legendary street artist Banksy appeared overnight, generating breathless excitement.   

Was this the famously anonymous graffiti star's first foray into Spain, coming to the rescue of the struggling Galician town?   

Unfortunately not. Banksy's official website has since denied he was behind the stencilled image of two Guardia Civil police agents kissing, and the author's true identity remains a mystery.

But the show goes on. 

READ MORE: Mural of Spanish police officers snogging 'not a Banksy' after all

'Agonising' decline

During last weekend's edition of the event, now sponsored by commercial brands, artists from around Spain got busy on walls marked with a yellow “M”, indicating where they were allowed to work.

Some perched on aerial work platforms to spray-paint giant building facades, others delicately glued mosaics to the wall of a house in ruins.   

The neighbourhood has accumulated around 240 quirky variants of Velazquez's 17th century painting, which depicts young Infanta Margarita with her ladies-in-waiting (Meninas in Spanish), wearing tight corsets and wide, bouffant skirts.

Cubist Meninas, a Menina with a Darth Vader head, another sporting the feminist slogan “Time's Up”, a mermaid Menina with long blue hair and a scar on her breast campaigning for breast cancer, another whose face lines follow the cracks of a wall…

In Canido, they come in all colours and sizes, helping liven up a town that Hermida says has suffered an “agonising and chronic” crisis sparked by the decline in its once buoyant shipyards.

“That pushed people to migrate, to leave, and there are lots of abandoned houses,” the bearded 52-year-old artist says.   

Since 1981, Ferrol, also the birthplace of late dictator Francisco Franco, has lost more than 20,000 inhabitants according to Galicia's statistics institute.

Between 1998 and 2017 the number of under-30s living there fell by nearly 47 percent.

In February, Zara, the high-street fashion favourite whose billionaire owner is Galician, closed its only store there.

Injection of youth

Canido, perched high in town overlooking lush rolling hills, has been “one of the worst-hit” neighbourhoods, says Hermida.

But it has gradually changed over the decade helped in no small part by the Meninas, locals say.   

While many dilapidated, single-storey houses remain, several new homes have sprung up.

A popular supermarket chain has also opened.   

“There is a gynaecologist, fishmonger, restaurants with good food,” Hermida adds.

Jose Gandara, a 46-year-old newsagent who has run a small shop since 1996, estimates that Canido's population has doubled since the festival began.   

“There are more customers… young people have come to the neighbourhood, couples, young people with kids.”   

He says tourists from cruise ships that now dock in Ferrol trek up to the neighbourhood to see what all the fuss is about.   

The concept of art helping revive a town is not new.   

Fanzara in eastern Spain, for instance, has been revitalised by giant murals painted by street artists from around the world.   

For Maria Fernandez Lemos, Ferrol's 46-year-old urban planning councillor, the Meninas festival — and a close-knit community — has helped generate pride in a town that didn't have much to go on.

“It's had a huge impact,” she says.

By AFP's  Marianne Barriaux 

ART

Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

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