Vhils spent October undergoing an important and symbolic project in Cape Verde, with the artist and his crew working closely with locals to build community ties to art and to create two new pieces of two of the country's most iconic and historically important figures - Amílcar Cabral and Cesária Évora.
Adding to the oeuvre of the 'Scratching The Surface' project, Vhils utilised the narrative of two of the country's icons in a bid to reshape the way communities around the country view themselves and in turn, are viewed by others. Muralism has long been a political tool and the Portuguese street artist has never shied away from its capability to be yielded as a means of creating important conversations. This trip was no different.
Choosing Cape Verde was, of course, no accident. The country has close cultural ties to Portugal, despite a tumultuous relationship that has seen colonialism come alongside great shared influence in social and artistic spheres. It was to marry, and better understand, this complex melange of sociocultural themes that underpinned the necessity and importance of such a project.
It started with an invite from the Xalabas di Komunidade project, an initiative whose motivation and goal is to change the negative perception of the once marginalised neighbourhood of Achada Grande Frente in the capital city of Praia.
Despite its small population crime, from petty to murder, is a common occurrence and the reality of everyday life in the impoverished area is of hardship and struggle - both against falling into a certain way of life whilst also aspiring to achieve and live another. Hope isn't particularly abundant and opportunities to escape the cycle are few and far between.
It's on this premise that the initiative is built, giving the people there a sense of perspective and opening their minds to the possibilities that exist outwith their usual way-of-life and lifestyle choices. Acknowledging and understanding this plight, Vhils chose to encourage participation in artistic ventures as one way out for the people. Art has, for many people in the Portuguese artist's circle and around the world as a whole, offered opportunities where there previously were none. Through this idea, the artist hopes to spread its influence to Cape Verde.
Intense research into the life of Amílcar Cabral led Vhils to the image that finally made it onto the wall. The revolutionary thinker was an icon of Africa's forward-thinking approach to its own problems and a man whose legacy looms large, yet whose death remains controversial and shady - our understanding never having been clarified properly.
In an emotional tribute to the finished artwork and its process of development in the community, locals gathered for a night of song and dance recalling the passion that is still evoked by the former political leader.
Then it was on to the island of São Vicente to the city on Mindelo with another association, Kriol Ideias. The energy of this organisation and the community's efforts were channelled into the kinetic portrait of singer Cesária Évora whose soulful music, like the soul that emanated through Cabral's ideas, permeated society there. In an island full of stories and history, this trip wasn't the final page, but a kickstart for change, the first page of a whole new chapter for these communities and what they can aspire to be.
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