Just over a month ago the cartoonist Albert Uderzo died, leaving orphaned the adventures of Asterix the Gaul and Obelix. However, the unyielding spirit of their French hamlet in its battle against the Roman empire lives on in places like Genalguacil, the tiny village in the Genal valley which has barely 400 inhabitants but whose Art Encounters have become famous in the Spanish contemporary art world and, at the same time, have proved to be an effective weapon against depopulation and oblivion.
Many places have cancelled cultural events this year because of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis, but Genalguacil stepped forward and decided to hold this year's encounter as scheduled. The organisers have included an 'anti-Covid' clause in the conditions, saying they are going ahead because they want to support artists in these difficult times, and that all necessary health and safety measures will be put into effect, even if the format ends up being different for legal reasons and the participants are unable to come to the village to work.
To coincide with the announcement, perhaps as a way of demonstrating its commitment, Genalguacil council has also just installed the wrought- iron balustrades created by Tamara Arroyo as part of the 'Forging identities. Building scenarios' project.
New pieces of urban art
The four new balustrades are at the entrance to the village, by the bus stop in Calle Real. Genalguacil is a continually evolving outdoor museum and art gallery, and some of the other most recent pieces now on display have been created by artists such as José Medina Galeote, Fernando Renes and Julio Anaya.
"The idea is for people to recognise and connect with these works of art with which they live every day, so we explore crafts and popular imagery (wrought iron, native species, the landscape etc) all of which are identifying features. We want to connect artists of all types, because that creates an enriching relationship," says Juan Francisco Rueda.
This connection between the resident artists and local people has been one of the project's signs of identity in the past 25 years, and in the intervening years between the Art Encounters there are other exhibitions and urban art projects take place.
During the Encounters, several artists move into the village for the first fortnight in August and carry out the projects for which they were selected. Afterwards, the works remain the property of the village. Genalguacil's population usually triples when these events take place.
In 2014 there was a major step forward when it was decided that the artists who participate should be paid 1,000 euros as well as being provided with accommodation and meals during their stay. This is still the case today and will apply to this year's event, for which applications are invited until 15 June. The successful applications will be decided in the second half of the month and, as usual, the event is scheduled for the first half of August.
Artists who have taken part in recent years and whose works are on display in the village include José Luis Serzo, Noelia García Bandera, Eugenio Merino, Moreno&Grau, Juan Francisco Casas, Paloma de la Cruz and Jesús Zurita. The initiative has become so popular that it has even been included in suggestions of places to go by the Observatory of the Contemporary Culture Foundation.
It is also extremely significant that such a tiny place has been able to use contemporary art as a crucial tool to prevent the depopulation which is affecting so many others. And now, facing up to the threat of the coronavirus, it is once again showing that same indomitable spirit of Asterix and company which Uderzo made immortal.