A 47-year-old woman was stabbed on April 10, 2017 by her ex-partner. The incident occurred on Tribulet Street in Lavapiés, the Madrid neighborhood I introduced in my previous post. It was confirmed after the aggressor was detained that the victim had a restraining order against him. What happened next? After a 24-hour period the residents of this neighborhood scheduled a protest to support the victim, mourn all the women who lost their lives to gender-based violence this year, and condemn the perpetrators.
The writing on the wall reads, “She is not alone. If they touch one, we all respond” - a direct message and warning which shows the resilience of this tightly-knit community.
In Lavapiés graffiti call attention to the normalized violence against women in a patriarchal/capitalistic society. It seeks to fracture the pattern of murders and gender violence from male partners. The graffiti takes the stories to the streets or public sphere and puts them in dialogue with those who walk by. Pedestrians are sure to notice the patterns on the walls which are presented as symbols, images, or text denouncing violence against women. By taking the narratives out of the private sphere (home), the artist/activist aims to challenge the term “domestic violence,” which portrays violence against women as an internal and natural problem.
This is a picture of the protest that mobilized just 24 hours after the attack on April 11, 2017. On the right-hand side of the banner is a symbol associated with an organization named Mujeres Libres (Free Women). Although most of the writings on the walls that I encountered are anonymous, it is not uncommon to walk by walls which have this organization’s stamp on them. Mujeres Libres is an activist group that has stood against the capitalist state system and patriarchy since the 1930s (Spanish civil war).
The Spanish woman was traditionally identified with motherhood. Her expected role was to be a wife and to bear children. Such sentiments toward women as nurturers remain etched in modern-day ideologies following the civil war and subsequent dictatorship. The anarchist Mujeres Libres have recognized the realities of women and emphasize the importance of social consciousness in the process of women’s development. They have mobilized thousands of women to fight for a society where women are valued as equal contributors in education and as engaged citizens. Through graffiti they have created a narrative that looks toward coexistence.
Moreover, on the streets of Lavapiés women assert their equality. Slogans are sprayed in free hand, usually in bright colors that cannot be ignored. The streets act as an active space for women to express their sexuality and contribute to the movement. Walking through the meandering cobblestone streets I felt a sense of solidarity and unity. The community members are ready to respond to the struggle of one, as I witnessed during the protest. Their commitment to one another is reflected in their struggle against political turbulence and machista (macho/patriarchal) culture. Lavapiés is tangled in a revolution against patriarchy!
Women use the streets as a platform. Wheatpastes with quotes are plastered on the walls with a brief statement to introduce women’s struggles and achievements. These black and white photos have made their way to the foreground of society, claiming a stake in the official historical memory. The posters acknowledge the value of the public sphere, which has historically been reserved for men. Moreover, the weight of the message is embedded in the street and the night, both of which they reclaim as their own.
Equally important is where they are displayed. Public parks and spaces for recreation and socialization are popular sites. They invite emotion, reflection, and questions regarding the social and political implications that spaces such as the streets or the night might have for a woman.
This type of street art is also a practice of documenting the past and putting it into conversation with the present. In this way, the community remembers the women who have fallen victim to gender-based violence and the patriarchal society which permits such heinous acts. It is also entrenched in the nation’s history of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship, which identified women as monolithic, mothers, and wives of the State.