The streets of Portugal are being turned into vibrant canvases as ‘wrinkle wall writers’ get to grips with spray cans; proving that age is just a number – and that number looks great tagged on walls in neon pink and yellow.
Graffiti might have once been considered deviant, but it’s now a prominent form of public art. By helping older men and women understand youth culture, leading intergenerational urban art workshop LATA 65 is creating badass senior citizens who can find something in common with teenagers.
’Lata’ is a clever name, because it means ‘tin can’, but it also means ‘nerve’; it can take courage for older people to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new. This is street art for the young at heart.
Developed by artistic residency event WOOL | Covilhã Urban Art (in partnership with COWORK Lisbon), the first LATA 65 workshop was co-founded by passionate Portuguese curator Lara Seixo Rodrigues in 2012.
Set up with her brother and sister-in-law a year earlier, the WOOL festival was the first event in Portugal that aimed to introduce contemporary street art as a tool for social, cultural, economic and urban transformation.
“It is possible and desirable to awaken, motivate and excite older people through urban art.” – Lara Seixo Rodrigues
With a background in architecture, Lara was always fascinated by the textile history of her home town of Covilhã – a small town in the centre of Portugal – and wanted to remember its forgotten community using art. Covilhã was once one of the most interesting success stories in the Portuguese textile industry, but it progressively declined as factories began to close down and buildings were left abandoned.
As Lara started putting on live painting events in Covilhã, she noticed how the older locals befriended the street artists. “We witnessed daily pilgrimages of older people leaving their homes, not to go to mass or a card game, but to follow the painting performances,” Lara explains.
The idea for the LATA 65 workshop came about over a quick coffee with Fernando Mendes of COWORK Lisbon in LXFactory, who was a fan of WOOL. “I told him that the public who were following our work, and asking questions about every detail of the paintings, were the seniors.” Fernando challenged Lara to do a workshop and within 15 days she had set up the first. “We wanted to demonstrate that urban art has the power to democratise contemporary art.”
Today LATA 65 has taken more than 600 “young people over 65 years old” on street art campaigns in neglected neighbourhoods, bringing them together with today’s most respected urban artists. The mission is to bring vibrant colour to communities blighted by poverty – and use graffiti as a way of vaulting the intergenerational culture gap that exists in modern society.
The unique street art project has toured and been emulated throughout Portugal – from Lisbon and Covilhã to Oporto and Ponta Delgada in the Azores volcanic islands – as well as cities in Brazil, the US, Spain and Scotland.
Workshoppers learn the history of graffiti from the 1970s in the US and its evolution to urban art, plus technical terms and techniques. Then they go outside with spray cans, masks and gloves to share their ideas by tagging and painting free wall spots in the city. Participants get to draw and cut their own stencils and create their own ‘tag’ (or nickname) that will be painted on a mural.
“Now I look at the walls with different eyes, I know what’s in front of me on the street.” – D. Lurdes aka ‘Arman’
Groups typically have a maximum of 15 seniors between 74 to an amazing 102 years young, and are mostly popular with women. “Because of the physical and motor limitations of the target audience, modules are spread out over two days, since they require plenty of practical work that can become tiring for older people.”
LATA 65 can turn senior citizens into genuine street artists. One of the regular participants from the very first workshop, Luisa Cortesão, never let age impede her imaginative spirit, always joking about her crew. She turned from participant to teacher, cutting stencils and applying them on the streets of Lisbon: “The Graffiti Mothers are my crew – a gang of very nasty old ladies!”
Real intergenerational collaboration wakes up a forgotten creative spirit, and is fun – which is essential at any age.
AtlasAction: Find out about the next workshops by mailing Lara here.
Lara Seixo Rodrigues
This project has been selected as part of AgeFutures, a new storytelling project that maps the innovations transforming the lives of older people, and the designers, entrepreneurs and community leaders – across all generations – behind them. Atlas of the Future is excited to partner with Independent Age.