Against the wall. Antonio Blázquez has been creating art in the streets of Genalguacil. / SUR

Whitewash and contemporary art in the village of Genalguacil

The small village in the Genal valley has a new collective exhibition featuring the presence of whitewash in its history and urban landscape

JAVIER LÓPEZ

The rumours have been flying round the village. Some say he is an archaeologist, looking for human remains from the Civil War; others claim he is an artist and he comes most summers; some of the rumours are more dramatic and therefore more juicy. And maybe they all contain a bit of truth, because the man who has been seen wandering through the streets of Genalguacil with a ladder and some whitewashing equipment is a bit of an archaeologist and there is also a lot of the artist about him.

His name is Antonio Blázquez, and he has created the works which can be seen in Calle Encarnación and Calle San José in this village which nestles in the Genal valley. They form part of 'Cal. Rito, memoria e identidad', the powerful exhibition which opened last weekend to mark a new edition of the Art Encounters, an event which has made this small village a national and international benchmark for contemporary art.

Because Genalguacil, with its 400 inhabitants, has risen again from the ashes of the terrible fires that have ravaged the beauty of this corner of Malaga province in the past year. And, through a determination which stems from an intimate commitment to the territory, the landscape and its inhabitants, Genaguacil council is once again offering visitors an exhibition which could withstand scrutiny by any top-level artistic institution.

Thanks to that rigour and that passion, this small place has even participated at events like the Arco Fair and the Contemporary Foundation's Culture Observatory, sitting at the same table as giants like the Prado Museum in Madrid and Bilbao's Guggenheim.

In Spanish there is a saying 'la de cal es la mala y la de arena, la buena', referring to the fact that there are bad things (lime) and good things (sand) in life. That has been turned around in Genalguacil, where the phrase is used as a thread for this new edition of the Art Encounters which combines new creations by Antonio Blázquez and José Luis Valverde with part of the collection of the local museum, including works by Raquel Serrano, Antonio R. Montesinos, Jesús Palomino, Javier Artero and David Gómez.

"The use of lime is one of the ancient ways of sanitising and preventing plagues and epidemics. Today, thanks to the sensitivity towards heritage and the consequent new categories, lime is considered an ethnographic heritage and, like that of Morón de la Frontera, has even been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco," points out Juan Francisco Rueda, an art critic and university lecturer, who is the curator of the 'Cal. Rito, memoria e identidad' exhibition.

He explains that the new art encounter in Genalguacil follows the same strategy as those of recent years, with a combination of street art and a display in the museum.

"For this occasion, we looked at the whole collection of the Genalguacil Village Museum, which has been growing since 1994, and selected works which feature whitewash and white walls as a sign of identity. We have also incorporated specific works by José Luis Valverde and Antonio Blázquez. In fact, Blázquez has been producing works in the village using lime and whitewash as a form of paint," he says.

Rueda also explains how Blázquez's work sums up the subtlety and the metaphysical, the whole process of whitewashing itself. "Blázquez has whitewashed these façades but has left some of the old white visible, and that takes on shapes like the ladder, which people used to use to paint the upper floors, and lost features, like the street numbers. In this way, the presence is made effective by the absence and people passing by become aware of these interventions as a form of discovery," he says.

Findings

Another discovery in Genalguacil is brought to us by José Luis Valverde, one of Malaga's most promising young artists. Valverde has made painting and the use of black two essential signs of identity in his work.

The former is obvious in the piece he has created for this project, which opens a new form of expression through the use of white as the predominant tone for the canvas titled 'Una mañana de julio en el cementerio del Genal', (A July morning in the Genal cemetery), which he has produced during his time living alongside the residents of Genalguacil.

Because life and art are closely linked in the strategy of this village which has made contemporary creation a weapon against depopulation and oblivion. Because those rumours flying round the village say that what is happening in Genalguacil is unique, and the best way to find out if that is true is to experience it for yourself.