May 19, 2024
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By Guillermo Hormigo

Mateo Mate, an artist from Spain, installed on one wall 25 images of Francoist figures and on another wall 22 prints of personalities of culture or republicanism to reflect the relation of the citizens with their past. His work has not left anyone indifferent; and some have taken action as a result.

Historical Memory has a present-day quality, as you need tools to stitch wounds. Mateo Mate, an artist from the Ciudad Lineal neighborhood in Madrid, created a series on two walls in the Pueblo Nuevo district that resembles the plaques on a street. The wall on Llanos de Escudero Street features Francoists and coup leaders. On the wall on the right, Berastegui Street is a prominent figure of culture, literature and art during the Second Republic, or in exile.

Mate completed this art intervention, entitled Right Facade-Left Facade in December 2020. The owners of two of the ground floor facades that he took, who are real estate developers invited him to do the same for their other properties. Although never to such an extreme result. Mate’s action, which is part of the series Domestic Nationalism exposes the way politics can also be seen in intimate gestures from home to public streets.

Residents of the neighbourhood had differing opinions about the project, but with time it has become a part of their neighborhood. Yes, they are assimilated, but not invulnerable to change. Thirteen of the 25 signboards with pictures or names of soldiers and politicians associated with the Dictatorship have been defaced with graffiti or paint. Most of the signs have been vandalized with paint or graffiti.

It is possible, by refining the magnifying lens, to determine that the plates have been treated differently and in different ways. The person who painted the plate of General Varela did not paint the name of Franco’s prime minister, but only the title “General”. Plaza Francisco Franco is a similar case, but also the opposite. The crossing doesn’t affect the word “square”, it affects the surname and name of the dictator. The actor chose not to use white paint in Captain Blanco Argibay. Instead, the name was covered with several cross-outs in dark colors and a graffiti is visible in the top right corner. Similar gray blots cover the Plaza del Cuadillo insignia.

The left mural appears to be intact (due the location of the pedestrian and the ideological sensibility). All 21 plaques remain intact, and they honor notable personalities such as Luis Bunuel or Rosa Chacel. They also commemorate Rafael Alberti, Joan Maragall, Maria de la O Lejarrega as well as Institucion Libre de Ensenanza.

In reality, however, it is a republican educator named Justa Freire who has been missing for a long time. The plaque that was on his wall was removed a few weeks after it was finished and never replaced. (Mate did not take part in the creation of this work once completed). As though the insults from the Madrid street map had been transferred to this work. Justice replaced the name Millan Astray with that of a Latina teacher, and the Jose Luis Martinez Almeida City Council did not appeal the decision.

Mate was probably thinking about these changes when he made the piece, with an intention to question how people relate to the past of their country and those figures that still receive honors. It is therefore worth asking if in such an open and lively work, we should speak about vandalism rather than collective participation. If the artist is suggesting that destroying the prints that are “real”, especially the ones that honor anti-democratic figures and pay homage to them, this would not be a manifestation of legality.

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