Dita Grunte and Rafa Coellho have a clear vision: to combine their skills as artists with good environmental practices. It is said that charity starts at home and this is definitely the case with the couple, who have been living in Almuñécar since March of last year.
Their workshop-cum-art gallery, Contagyou, is furnished and decorated using upcycled bits of rubbish that they have found on the beach or streets of Almuñécar. "We believe that if we're going to educate about the environment then people need to see that we're practising what we preach," says Dita, 33, who is originally from Latvia.
So impressed was the English teacher from the local secondary school, IES Al Andalus, when he went to visit the gallery last year that he invited the artists to do a project with his students, to teach them about the consequences of throwing rubbish into the seas and not recycling.
The pair had worked on similar projects with children in Madrid, where they lived for a while before coming to Granada province. "We had to think of a concept that connected rubbish and art," explains Rafa, 39, who was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil, but has lived in the USA, Canada and Spain.
They came up with the idea of building a spaceship, or 'spaceshit' as they called it (this was given the OK by the English teacher on the basis that most kids know English swear words!). The thinking behind it was that littering and plastics are such awful things that humans couldn't possibly be responsible for them, so they needed to build a spaceship to send all of the rubbish back to the alien life forms that were behind the crime. "The pupils really engaged with the project," says Dita, who goes on to say that they came up with some "very creative" prototypes, before a winner was selected and the spaceship built out of rubbish that everyone participating collected.
Almuñécar town hall has given their support to what Dita and Rafa are doing and a larger version of the spaceshit is to be built and exhibited in the town's museum, before eventually being a permanent display at the school. The project also helped the pupils with their English lessons as they had to do it in English. Dita and Rafa will continue to work with the school in September.
They were asked to run the same project at a summer camp earlier this month near Ronda and they hope to take the project to other summer camps and schools in the future. "We want to leave a footprint with the projects, so that there is continuation and kids and parents continue the good work we hopefully started," says Dita.
For Dita, who is a textile and crochet artist as well as being an athlete, and Rafa who has a background in the creative and digital industries and is an abstract artist, art, creativity and social responsibility are the three concepts by which they work. They both believe in the importance of volunteering and making a difference in their communities and this has been key to their life in Almuñécar.
They say that while they are "no means Mr and Mrs Perfect zero waste," when it comes to plastics and the environment, they say "we are just trying our best and slowly transitioning where we can, plus trying to raise awareness for the subject." The couple are concerned about the "huge issue with already produced amounts of plastic" and argue that the solution is "not to throw it all out but to keep using as best as one can." They use plastic trays and cups for their work and try to recycle as much as they can for their own purposes, like planting seeds in discarded food trays.
On the name of the gallery, Contagyou, they explain, "The name obviously comes from the word contagious and the concept that good ideas are contagious." The gallery is also open to the public and runs permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as a number of workshops.