Argentine street artist Gualicho has revealed the inspiration behind his incredible interventions in the former prison of Miguelete in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Miguelete Prison was the first jail in Uruguay. It was opened in 1889 with four wings and a central tower based on the same floor plan as Pentonville Prison in London. Its design meant guards could view the goings-on in 344 cells on three floors without the inmates knowing they were being watched. It was closed in 1986 but was kept going as a centre for juvenile offenders until 1990 when it was abandoned and left to the elements.
A new reconstruction project begun in 2008 has converted one of the wings into the first contemporary art space in the country, named Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (EAC). And the cells which once housed prisoners have been turned into rooms displaying exhibitions of art, film and photography.
BA Street Art was fortunate enough to be shown around the complex by EAC’s director Fernando Sicco. After our visit, Gualicho told me about his amazing designs.
How did the project come about to paint the ex-prison?
It was organised by the EAC, specifically by Eugenia González (curator of the Toll Gallery in Montevideo) and Fernando Sicco, I had worked with them before on another project at the Centro Mec (Centre of Minstry of Education and Culture) in Montevideo.
Prisoner of the mind
Your design with the face and the window and bars. How did the idea come about for this powerful image?
Observing the cells, walking through the run down corridors, looking through the bars, the ideas came to me. I wanted to leave something that would relate to the idea of freedom, obviously in this context it was the most appropriate. I believe that ultimate freedom comes from the freedom to think, something that we all possess but very few of us have. The average man is troubled by (negative) thoughts that in some way ‘float’ into the human psyche. To be able to be free yourself from this flow you need to have very strong and very specific desires. From there, the man that I painted opens the cells of his own mind and to do that he certainly requires a lot of personal strength.
Set me free
Tell me about your image with the extended arms. What does it signify?
While I was walking in the cell, I was thinking of the incredible atmosphere in the place, in the walls, in the corridors and I really felt the desire to get out of this place. Imagine what it would feel like being a person locked up in here. Those extended arms are that longing for freedom, born from the suffocation of living in prison under these conditions. Of course for me this has a double meaning, that in our daily lives we can also feel disgust by being trapped by the our limitations.
Life on the inside
What are your thoughts about the jail, its architecture and the feeling it gives you?
The weight in the air is incredibly heavy and leaves many lasting impressions. The architecture is also very interesting how it is based on a shape that is all about controlling the mind, everything is arranged perfectly to observe the prisoners.
Design by Gualicho, and Uruguyan artist Bruster (right)
Was the subject of incarceration something you were trying to explore in your art?
I wanted to paint inside a jail and when I was travelling in Europe I was on the verge of doing it in a women’s prison but in the end it didn’t happen. So when I met up with Eugenia, in a way it was waiting for me!