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from the March 2021 issue

“A Generation Without Substitute”: Galicia’s Supernatural Grannies

This month’s issue of Words Without Borders is graced by the art of Galician muralist Joseba Muruzábal, also known as Yoseba MP. The piece, Leiterofilia II, is one of a series of awe-inspiring murals collectively titled Fenómenos do rural (Rural Phenomena) and exhibited across Galicia, an autonomous community of Spain. The murals have garnered attention for their depictions of superpowerful grandmothers, women endemic to the region who have toiled and worked the soil of rural Galicia. In this interview conducted over e-mail, Muruzábal tells us how his murals give testament to a generation of women whose lifestyles resist the encroachments of speculative urbanization. 

A greleira de 50 pés

Alexander Aguayo: Good afternoon, Joseba. You have had a lot of success with your work, Fenómenos do rural (Rural Phenomena). How do you feel about that?

Joseba Muruzábal: Very pleased. I’ve had the fortune to meet new models in different parts of Galicia, paint in several parts of my country that I did not know, and be able to charge a dignifying price for it.


Aguayo: Tell me a bit about your artistic training. Was there something particular about art that inspired you? What about mural art excites you?

Muruzábal: I received my training from a university that specializes in conceptual art; ideas were always superior to technique. It’s something that now, I believe, works to my advantage, though back then it was frustrating. Nowadays, I round out my education taking courses with painters I like. It’s like going to the training room in The Matrix; in one weekend you learn a lot of information. The last one I did was with Iñigo Navarro, an amazing painter.

One thing that I love most about muralism is its physical aspect. It’s exhausting, but at the same time very dynamic. What I don’t accomplish in the studio, painting without interruption, the mural demands of me. The mural has a timeline, you know when you begin and when you finish. You can leave a portrait unfinished for months, even years. Half-finished work leaves me in a well of unrest. It’s like when you read a Russian novel, one of the thick kind, and you take a few months’ break somewhere in the middle. Murals don’t let me idle away, and I like that.

Another amazing thing about muralism is that it allows you to meet new people and places. Certainly, this is the most enriching part of the job.


Aguayo: What was your intention when you began to paint the “supergrannies” in Fenómenos do rural? What impact did you want to have in the world with these subjects?

Muruzábal: To give testament to the difficult life of these women in a humorous tone. I think of the women in rural Galicia as a collective. This is key given that people understand the protagonists of the murals as metaphors for their own grandmothers. One alone represents the values of all, in spite of the fact that each mural tries to reflect the particularities, too, of each subject.

Soledad, a Poppins do sar

Aguayo: What characteristics attract you to rural environments? What relationship exists between your representations of ruralism and the urban environment in which your murals are displayed?

Muruzábal: I have only three murals from Fenómenos do rural in cities; the rest are in small towns. And as I always say, Galicia is all rural. Galician cities guard with zeal their rural areas. The mural that I painted in Santiago has just below it a group of houses with vegetable gardens and granaries that resist speculative urbanization right in the city center.

I have a video where I put together the process for each mural. I always try to mirror the reality of what I am painting by filming the surroundings. From the crane I tend to see women in aprons working on their garden plots or homes. It is very beautiful when the thing you are painting is replicated in the real life taking place around the mural.

Amparo, a reposteira dos montes

Aguayo: Within muralism various subjects are represented in a single image, which points to social life. What does it mean that the “supergrannies” are represented as individuals?

Muruzábal: Normally, that is how you find them: they are solitary workers, which by no means takes away from the fact that they make a social life in their garden plots. But in general, when you cross paths with a “supergranny” on a sidewalk, she tends to be alone on her way to or from work. The small homestead tends to be a site of individual work.


Aguayo: The woman that inspires you, what role does she represent in art? Is representing her a means of “translating,” that is, of adapting her to a different system of signification? Or better yet, is it a means of archiving Galicia?

Muruzábal: It is a way of archiving Galicia, of giving testimony in a humorous tone to this generation of women that due to a series of conditions share a way of life. Mind you, here is a generation without substitute, the people now raised in the country do not have the same life experiences as these women, luckily. Their superpowers are born out of overexerting themselves their whole lives, and now in old age they are unable to put the brakes on it. As a result, you can come across eighty-year old women pruning apple trees.

Eugenia e o dragón do batea

Aguayo: What else inspires you? Comics?

Muruzábal: Of course. Being born in the 1980s in the full swing of pop culture, it shows. On the one hand, I paint a woman who serves as a paradigm for the collective, and on the other, I mix this image with concepts borrowed from popular culture that are recognized by everyone. It’s painting for all publics with different levels of interpretation.


Aguayo: How has your technique or vision changed over the years?

Muruzábal: With time I would like my work to be valuable as much for its content as for its form. Although for many viewers my technique is good, in my opinion there is room for growth. I am working on that, continuing to learn.


Aguayo: What more can we expect to see from you?

Muruzábal: Well . . . let’s see if I exhibit my doll. For a while now I have been making a doll. The protagonist Dora, the model for my portrait Equilibrios na horta (Equilibriums on the Homestead). I didn’t like the first finish and I put the brakes on it for two years. This year I will try to finish it and put her up for sale.


© 2021 by Alexander Aguayo. All rights reserved.

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