Vila do Bispo Chamber accused of "censoring" public art that criticizes oil exploration

WATT?, an artistic project for the community, began with assemblies in each of the seven locations where it was planned […]

The proposal by the Romanian artist Padure, which the Vila do Bispo Council banned
The proposal by the Romanian artist Padure, which the Vila do Bispo Council banned

O WATT?, an artistic project for the community, began with assemblies in each of the seven locations where interventions were planned, so that local people, namely mayors, could give their opinion and talk to the artists about what each one would do. From this interaction, diverse and shared ideas emerged and all projects advanced.

All? Not after all! In Vila do Bispo, because the collective of invited artists wanted to carry out interventions alluding to oil exploration in three public places provided by the municipality, the local Chamber gave up saying something and banned artistic intervention.

Let's start at the beginning: the Watt? is part of the EDP Foundation's national Public Art project, being coordinated, in the Algarve, by LAC – Laboratory of Creative Activities, from Lagos, which invited several artists – Xana, Jorge Pereira, Mariana a Miserável, Padure and Menau – to make interventions in public spaces.

Such spaces were provided by the local authorities (City Hall, in the case of Vila do Bispo, and Parish Councils, in the others) and by EDP itself, in the case of transformation posts, in activity or not, owned by the company.

Each of the municipalities was previously contacted by LAC, in order to explain the project, as well as to inquire which public spaces they could make available.

In Vila do Bispo, the City Council offered a wall of the football field (where the artist Xana should intervene), another of the Interpretative Center (Padure) and the main exterior wall of the Municipal Market (where a collective intervention was planned, coordinated by Xana). In the photo gallery below, the artists' proposals for these spaces can be seen, censored by the Vila do Bispo Chamber.

“In the Vila do Bispo Chamber, they told us that they supported the public art project, but they wanted to see the artists' proposals. At the first public assembly, where residents spoke with the artists, people suggested something related to oil, as it is the hot topic of the moment, and the artists who should make these interventions accepted», Maria João Alcobia, from LAC, told Sul Informação.

Although no one from the Chamber was present at the assemblies, the artists' proposals were, as agreed, sent to the municipality. At first, the Vila do Bispo Chamber considered the project by the Romanian artist Padure to be very monochromatic (it was in black and white, as can be seen in the image above) and asked to introduce color. The artist did so. But even that wasn't enough.


Xana's intervention project, for the wall of the football field in Vila do Bispo, also prohibited by the City Council


“When we presented the definitive projects, in the Chamber they told us that the interest had been revoked and that the entire project had been rejected by the Chamber. What they told us was: we don't want to continue with your projects», added Maria João Alcobia.

The decision to withdraw the support of the autarchy, chaired by Adelino Soares, elected by the PS, was taken unanimously at a Chamber meeting. In other words, in addition to the favorable vote of President Adelino Soares, it also received the approval of councilors Rute Silva and Afonso Nascimento (PS) and Judite Dias and Nuno Rio (PSD).

Maria João Alcobia is surprised by the attitude of the Vilabispense Chamber, since, she stresses, “when we presented the public art project to them, they were the first to say they were interested. They even made a letter in support of the project».

“The ideas were opened up to the community and people gave their opinion, asking the artists to do something that had to do with oil. And the Chamber could have been at these assemblies, which were public, open to everyone, but no one from the Chamber was present».

Xana (Alexandre Barata), the best known artist at the national and international level of this group, with no frills as is his custom, does not hesitate to classify the attitude of the Vila do Bispo City Council as “censorship”. «Never, in all my life as an artist, had I been censored. But here in Vila do Bispo this is what is happening».

“They are afraid of the artists' freedom of expression and this attitude is a lack of respect, not only for the artists, but for the local community itself. It's that, by rejecting our project, they didn't even let the community express themselves. In other words, they are afraid of their own voters», accuses Xana.

In statements to the Sul Informação, Adelino Soares rejects the accusations of censorship and attack on freedom of expression. “The City Council did not agree with the drawings and, unanimously, decided that it did not want this intervention in public places, such as the Municipal Market, the Interpretive Center or the football field”.

“What they wanted to do was a fish with an oil hose up its tail. We felt that this is not the right way to use the public space and we refused authorization», added the mayor.

«If this is censorship? It's their opinion and I respect it», responds Adelino Soares. "The public space belongs to everyone and they have the freedom to express their point of view, as the others have to dislike", adds the mayor of Vila do Bispo.

"We are in a tourist council and, although the Chamber's position against oil exploration is clear, we cannot be alarming people who visit us with a sensitive issue," concluded the PS mayor.

Jorge Pereira's intervention in a transformation post in Vila do Bispo
Jorge Pereira's intervention in a transformation post in Vila do Bispo

Despite not being able to use the walls of the three locations that the City Council had made available, all of which are clearly visible and with much public access, the artistic interventions criticizing oil exploration in the Algarve were not completely banned from Vila do Bispo, curiously the homeland. de Sousa Cintra, concessionaire of the two onshore hydrocarbon research blocks, Onshore, in almost half of the Algarve.

«Jorge Pereira's intervention was planned for an EDP transformation post, so we had authorization to at least build this mural. And we advanced», said Maria João Alcobia. In such a way that, in the center of Vila do Bispo, there is now an old PT that shows a shellfish collector catching barnacles in a sea dirty with oil (see photos). Interestingly, of the four proposals, it ended up moving to the one that deals more explicitly with the subject of the dangers of hydrocarbon exploration in the Algarve.

In addition to the EDP transformation post, guarantees the LAC leader, "there were already some private people offering walls and walls for us to make the intervention that was missing".

However, and why Watt? is a public and community art project, involving the people of the land, LAC will once again promote an assembly in Vila do Bispo. “We want to explain to people why the other three planned interventions are not moving forward. We have to give them this explanation», said Carmo Serpa.