At first glance, the only remarkable thing about a cavernous, abandoned townhouse in the heart of Malaga’s dilapidated Soho is the sheer number of pigeons nesting inside. Their cooing and fluttering is all you can hear as you walk up Calle Casas de Campos, through unloved streets that fifty years ago made up one of the city’s most fashionable residential areas.
But suddenly, on your right, the crumbling walls are transformed by hugely skilled spray-paint murals of Charlie Chaplin nonchalantly leaning on his cane, flanked by a monster and a robot. Grafitti works line three sides of this enormous old building and their combined effect is to transform a depressing urban environment into somewhere to linger, somewhere to take a little aesthetic pleasure in the middle of your daily routine.
Indeed, this is one of the core objectives of the artistic initiative known as MAUS (Malaga Arte Urbano Soho). MAUS works are situated all over Soho, a now-neglected quarter bordered by the Guadalmedina river to the west, Calle Alameda Principal to the north and the port to the east. Some are hilariously cheeky and surreal, whilst others are as moving – and involve as much command of technique – as anything you´ll come across in a gallery of classic artworks. All have been created, with the full cooperation of local residents (humans, not pigeons), by leading grafitti artists from all over the world – including big names such as D*Face, Sephard Fairey and Pejac.
One of the most striking aspects of the works scattered around the streets of Soho is the range of different artistic styles in evidence. This perhaps gives Malaga’s street art scene a slight edge over Granada’s – even though the latter boasts the work of Él Nino de las Pinturas, one of the pioneers of the art form. Take the wall pictured below, found on Calle Simonet: comic-book edginess right next to a brooding, ghostly picture in a more classic style.
Others – such as the picture below, with its subtle allusion to ‘Wilson’ in Castaway – amuse passers-by with cartoon-style depictions of imminent disaster. This mural, at the port-end of the busy Calle Alameda Principal, also provides a neat illustration of the two sides of Soho: a long-closed bar, emblematic of the quarter’s fall from grace, alongside the art that has revitalised it.
MAUS even has its own version of a still life painting, to be found on the eastern tip of Soho on Plaza de La Marina. Here, fruit is portrayed with a nuance of light and shadow more readily associated with oil paintings than spray-paint murals. A similar effect is achieved in the cosmos contained within the girl’s flowing hair.
MAUS shows why Malaga has forged a reputation for being Andalusia’s most artistically-dynamic hub. A part of the city so far untouched by modernisation and redevelopment has become, thanks to the artists involved in this initiative, a de facto art gallery containing important contemporary works. And because many of Soho’s buildings are now uninhabited, you can enjoy wandering around looking for the pictures in almost the kind of hushed atmosphere that prevails in actual galleries. Apart from the pigeons, of course.