Caught an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations last week, which of course I’m just now getting around to writing about. For those who don’t know, Bourdain was a long-time NYC chef who makes his living these days as a writer and roving foodie exploring the cuisine and culture of places big and small around the world. Anyway, this episode finds Bourdain in Sardinia (or Sardegna, depending). He’s given a walking tour of Orgosolo, famous for its murals. According to about.com, “Orgosolo’s mural tradition started in the late 1960s when student protest was beginning to question decades of social oppression and injustice. Then, as Italy’s ‘Economic Miracle’ was unfolding in the ’80s, the painting turned to scenes of everyday Sardinian village life, a life that was vanishing with the changes brought about by the reforms and the new economy. The evolution of the murals was repeating the rhythm of nature–destruction of the past and rebuilding anew–but with an eye toward the old values and traditions.”
The murals are gorgeous. Vibrant colors, bold Cubist-inspired lines, scathing political indictments; the history and culture of Sardinia is literally written on the walls. Murals are an ideal form of protest and discourse. They require time, forethought, commitment, clarity, conciseness, passion. They give the uniqueness of a place visual form. They give the citizens a voice. They placemake with the sort of authenticity planners could only dream of.
So why don’t we have more murals? Why don’t more cities promote living art? The murals of Orgosolo – new additions to which are painted every year – not only strengthen community bonds, they bring people to the streets, to restaurants, to shops. Fancy shopping centers are a dime a dozen, great restaurants can be found in any city, amusement parks are all variations on a theme. Murals are singular, like iconic works of architecture without the multi-million dollar price tag. If you want to see the Murali del Orgosolo you have to go to Orgosolo.
I mentioned in a previous post that Brighton, England, home of the internationally-known graffiti artist Banksy, has begun to rally around Banksy’s work, going so far as to request a change in local laws that currently require all graffiti to be painted over. Philadelphia offers tours of its murals. Los Angeles, San Diego, Guadalajara, Barcelona, and many other cities have a rich supply of murals. So why don’t more cities open up their walls to talented local artists? How would our cities change, both physically and culturally?