The silent voices in Coimbra's walls

Demanding, political, reflective and denunciation phrases that permeate the walls of the Portuguese city that is a world heritage.

Coimbra is a city of particular characteristics. It maintains a constant and permanent boiling relationship between its rich historical, political and cultural past and its intense present. It was, in the past, capital of the Kingdom of Portugal, housing the first National Pantheon - the Monastery of Santa Cruz -, and has a rich historical and architectural heritage that earned it the title of World Heritage in 2013 by UNESCO.

This city houses the University of Coimbra, one of the largest and most important Portuguese universities. With 730 years celebrated in 2020, the university is also one of the oldest in Europe. A simple and willing walk through the narrow streets, courtyards, stairs, and medieval arches of the Coimbra reveals how these elements remain alive in the urban environment of the city, dialoguing with contemporary issues.

In addition to the artists who present their works, and the traditional groups of students singing the longing and idealization of student life in the fado classics, there is also a diversity of manifestations and claims of political and social nature. Many of them come from the silent voices of inscriptions that present themselves anonymously throughout the city. The content introduced by this exhibition is composed of some of this inscriptions, and the way they speak through the walls of Coimbra.

"Humiliation is not integration" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Criticism of some traditions often clashes with the university's own discourse. The tradition denominated "praxe" is officially assumed as a form of inclusion of new students. However, it is a practice that is very criticized in several inscriptions, that denounce them as abusive, and also a humiliating tradition.

"The police do not protect us" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The strong discourse against fascism is historically related to the leading role of the Coimbra student movements and their important participation in the 25th of April of 1974. The present claims identify some State institutions (such as the police) as representatives of abusive thoughts and practices.

"La policia no me cuida me viola" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The anti-fascist denunciations are mixed with the demands of feminist groups. Entries are mostly in Portuguese, but you can also find them in Spanish, English, French and Italian.

Antifascism Activism (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

In this inscription, the Nazi symbology seems to express concern regarding the far right groups within Portuguese society. These criticisms, despite being associated with local contexts, are influenced by views that originate in the frequent flow of students from different parts of the world.

Interview with Rafael Vieira (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Rafael Vieira is an architect and researcher from Coimbra interested in urban art. He documents on an Instagram page called Coimbra StreetArt the different forms of expression present in the city walls.

"Antimacho anti-facho" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Another inscription that denounces machismo and fascism.

"It is not normal to walk alone in the street" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The feminist claim is also for security. The phrase that denounces the danger of women walking alone through the city is one of the most frequent.

"Gays and lesbians make revolution" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The criticism of machismo does not appear only in feminist inscriptions. There are also the words of order of LGBTQIA+ groups against patriarchy.

"Until when? If hunger is the law, rebellion is justice" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Another frequent theme is the criticism of the capitalist system, identified as responsible for social inequalities and injustices.

"Mandatory quarantine to capitalism" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the walls of Coimbra already required "quarantine to capitalism".

"Slaves who think they're free because they have money" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Capitalism is also seen as responsible for consumerism and the detriment of being.

"Let’s disassimilate" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

Assimilation, a process of adaptation to local European culture by immigrants mainly from former African colonies, is also the reason for criticism and demands. In this image we also see the process of palimpsest, as mentioned by Rafael Vieira.

"In order not to assimilate, it’s better for the 2nd person not to conjugate (you know it)" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The criticism of the assimilation process is endowed with irony. The inscription mentions the grammatical form of the Portuguese spoken mainly in much of Brazil that suppresses the verb in 2nd person, replacing with third-person flexion, even when used with the pronoun "tu". Once again the process of palimpsest is also evident.

"Down with the monarchs" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The inscription, at the foot of the image of the portuguese monarch D. Dinis (1261-1325) is a critique of imperialism. Its consequences are still visible today in many European societies.

"Don't be racist. You are the first 'colonisator'" (21th Century) by Bruno DiasVirtual Museum of Lusophony

The criticism of the colonization process that established racism as a form of domination reminds Portugal that the country was one of its pioneers.

Take a tour through the city, in particular the sites where the conflict between the city's historical heritage and the inscriptions with contemporary demands (such as those shown in this exhibition) is most evident.

Going up the Monumental Stairs (Escadaria Monumental), you will find Praça Dom Dinis and Colégio São Jerónimo. Further on, the Faculty of Medicine and Largo da Porta Férrea, where the General Library and the Faculty of Arts are located.

The Porta Férrea gives acess to Pátio das Escolas, the "heart" of the institution, where the rectory, the Faculty of Law and the Biblioteca Joanina are located.

Credits: Story

Photography: Bruno Dias and Rafael Vieira

Curatorship: Bruno Dias


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- Volli, U. (2014). Para una semiótica de la ciudad. Criterios, La Habana, (61).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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