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Verónica Ruth Frías founded Residencia Rara with Cyro García. Ñito Salas
A rural refuge for art half an hour from Malaga

A rural refuge for art half an hour from Malaga

It was seen as the crazy idea of a couple of creators but is now a phenomenon. A number of artists have moved to the village and are revolutionising its cultural life

REGINA SOTORRÍO

Friday, 10 February 2023, 12:02

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It takes no more than ten minutes to walk from one side of Villanueva del Rosario to the other. It is a short journey, just one kilometre, but is far more interesting than many people would imagine, not just because of the hills, nooks and crannies and narrow streets that give this rural village in Malaga province its character, but also because of who lives there. Artists, performers, ceramicists, cultural managers, graphic designers, a dancer, an illustrator, a photographer, a musician - this is "the community," as they call it.

In the past two years, Villanueva has experienced an unusual phenomenon, a return to rural life by a handful of creators who are revolutionising the village's cultural life and reviving its historic centre.

This is a movement created by those who have turned their backs on urban life, with its extortionate prices for miniscule spaces, and swapped it for the tranquility of the countryside and the feeling of being part of a group with shared interests. And, best of all, it is only half an hour up the motorway from Malaga city.

The origin of this artistic revolution is at number 38 Calle Carrera: the Residencia Rara. Here, we are greeted with big smiles by Verónica Ruth Frías and Cyro García, two restless creators who are considered visionaries now but were called crazy four years ago. Few people were convinced that an initiative of this type, a house converted into a refuge for producing and exhibiting art, could work in a place with a population of barely 3,400 inhabitants.

However, more than three years since it opened (in October 2019), not only is Rara still going, but many of the artists who have come here have ended up living permanently in Villanueva del Rosario.

Every Sunday Residencia Rara becomes a place of pilgrimage for those with an interest in art from the village and the nearby area. On the day of our visit an inauguration is due to take place: a display of works created by Ana Sánchez and Mateo Chica during their stay last October.

We accompany Cristina Savage, an artist, photographer and performer, to Calle Canalejas 19, her future home. The concrete mixers, wheelbarrows and sacks of earth coexist alongside boxes containing her work equipment. "This will be the workshop," she says. Her partner, architect Javier Vegas, is the only local member of this art community. "But we're all villagers now," he insists. On the 2,000 m2 plot of land in front of them, they have planned an artistic residence with a focus on multidisciplinary training. "We want to attract a mixture of professionals from elsewhere, artists from here and local people as well," says Christine. In this first phase, they have invited performer Jessica Fairfax Hirst as a guest.

Cartoonist Omar Janaan is renting a property in the village.
Cartoonist Omar Janaan is renting a property in the village. Ñito Salas

Something like this would not be viable in the city, they say. And that is something we also hear at Calle Fuente 12, the home of Ignacio del Río, which is soon to become his gallery as well. The photographer, who runs an artistic space in the Soho district of Malaga, has made the upper floor his home and the ground floor will be for exhibitions and teaching. He was attracted by the prices here but over time he discovered other benefits: "The humanity that exists in a small place is something you don't find in large towns," he says.

Box of surprises

Just opposite, Pilar Bandrés and Ramón Paredes, a married couple who are both ceramicists, offer to show us around their house. It is a box of surprises, like the vast majority of these old constructions: it looks small from outside but leads into a seemingly endless labyrinth of rooms and courtyards.

We enter through a workshop full of sculptures and other pieces created by the couple. It will soon open on Sundays to sell to the public. They discovered the village in 2019, when Bandrés was the first resident at Rara. After spending all their lives in the city, once they had retired and their children were grown-up they moved here: they have gained peace and quiet and space in which to create.

Their main entrance is in Calle Posadas 16, and just down the road at number 8 Susana Hermoso-Espinosa is waiting. This is the home of Hidden Gallery and Marc Montijano's "performance laboratory". The gallery was opened during the summer with an event in which Chema Lumbreras, Cyro García, Ddarko, José Medina Galeote, Noelia García Banderas and Verónica Ruth Frías participated. This house is dedicated to the living arts, from bottom to top. Upstairs there is an immense room with a gabled roof and impressive wooden beams, where Montijano does the research for his creations.

This layout is common in the village houses: the highest room was probably used to store grain, and the dimensions now allow for multiple possibilities.

"To say that art is dead is like saying that love is dead," is written in pen on a column on the third floor of Mimi Ripoll's house. On one side you can see the bell tower of the church, on the other the mountain. This is La Ecléctica, a multifunctional space suitable for all artistic disciplines, with a residence for creators and her own studio. At present there are works going on and workers everywhere, to get it up and running by April. "This is my life's dream," she says.

For Sara Sarabia the village was not something she had planned. She is a city girl, used to the frantic lifestyle of Malaga, a designer in an architectural studio and founder of the EA Malaga (Encuentra Arte en Malaga) association. But after lockdown rental prices soared and the possibility of working from home brought her to Villanueva. . She has been here for two years and is happy. "The community we have found here is wonderful. You have a closer, warmer relationship with the people," she says. She and her partner Fabián Vroom, a cybersecurity operations analyst, live in a cute house in Calle Peligro, with works by Villanueva's artists decorating the entrance. At the back is a large courtyard which has already hosted one concert, and the couple want it to become a regular venue for events.

Being in Villanueva allows people to live to work, not the other way round. "The rent in Malaga was double what we are paying for this six-bedroomed house. The prices in the city are not compatible with having free time," say musician Daniel Blacksmith and videographer Yolanda Montiel, the new owners of number 23 Calle Jaén. Here they have an entire room for their instruments and equipment.

The same goes for the new batch of artists who have chosen to rent. "I have a better quality of life now. I have more time to dedicate to my art work and it is close enough to the city that you don't lose anything," says graphic designer Raúl Navas, who has swapped the bustle of Pedregalejo for the peace of Villanueva.

Illustrator and cartoonist Omar Janaan feels the same: 'the community' has been key to his work. He plans to teach cartoon workshops in the village and set up a recording set in his studio to teach comedy.

Artist Saúl Wes and dancer Laura Maíllo have been in Villanueva for two months. They love the friendly ambience and are looking for premises to create and to teach dance. And author and illustrator Quan Zhou Wu has been in her rented apartment for just two days. She plans to stay until she has finished her new novel, which she began at Rara.

Artists attract each other like magnets and the phenomenon is growing. There are a few exceptions: graphic designers Jorge Alcalde and Javier León discovered the others by accident when they bought a half-finished house at the entrance to the village, in Calle Arroyo. "And it was a good move. You don't get bored in this village," they tell us in their modern kitchen, with its immense window giving views of the mountains.

It seems the location is perfect, too: close enough to enjoy the attractions of Malaga city when the people of Villanueva feel like it, but far enough away for them to lead a totally different life.

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