I’d gone in search of something entirely different, the 15th century chapel of Parroquia de San Lázaro. One of the first to be built in the city after it was conquered by Spanish monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, the chapel is home to one of Malaga’s most famous religious icons, the Virgen del Rocío. When I arrived I found the chapel locked. I’d made the journey in vain, but not before I discovered something even more interesting.
The Lagunillas neighbourhood, through which I’d passed on my way to visit Parroquia de San Lázaro, definitely has its share of problems: poverty, unemployment and impending gentrification that will undoubtedly displace many residents. Such was the urban decay a few years ago though, that local residents decided to take action. So it may not be one of Malaga’s most famous districts, but it is an Andalusian street art Eldorado.
I hadn’t read up on whether Malaga had much of a street art scene, and the general consensus seemed to be that the newly redeveloped Soho district was where the street art action was to be found. So Lagunillas came as a genuine surprise. The narrow tangle of streets north of Plaza de la Merced hides a literal cornucopia of art, much of which is themed around attempts to develop and gentrify the neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood rubs shoulders with the historic centre of Malaga, yet it feels very different. A decade ago, the European Union declared it to be a ‘marginal’ district, EU speak for deprived. Judging by the number of dilapidated buildings and unemployment figures, not much progress has been made in changing that. Which makes it all the more surprising that its walls are filled with brilliant art.
It’s true to say that the green shoots of gentrification are definitely present. I passed a few upmarket-looking bars and restaurants, as well as a number of apartments for rent and a couple of art galleries. Give it a few years, and it’s likely that this will be the place to be in Malaga. So Soho, with its international street artists on display, may soon be overtaken by Lagunillas with its more organic neighbourhood street art.
The differences in the style of street art between these two areas makes for a fascinating comparison. I loved the pieces we saw in Soho, but they were all commissioned from well known street artists that you can find in many major cities around the world. That includes Belgium’s ROA , Britain’s Dean Stockton and South Africa’s Faith47. The art in Lagunillas felt more connected to its community because they inspired it.
Street art is often associated with gentrification, for the residents of Lagunillas it was a way of protesting the lack of assistance they were getting from the authorities to help the area. The sad irony is that a wave of development is already underway, often criticised in the street art itself. But the very fact that the area has now become an attraction in its own right, means street art is helping speed up that process.
It will be interesting to see who wins out in this battle for the soul of Lagunillas, but if history is any guide, the power of politically connected developers normally proves too much for local communities. It would be a terrible shame if the next time I visited this area, the community feel of the art had been replaced by pieces commissioned by those very same developers.