An obscure maze of alleyways, plazas and vacant spaces hidden in plain sight behind Plaza de la Merced, Lagunillas is a piece of authentic, bohemian and urban Spanish life perfectly preserved among the city’s most touristic neighbourhoods.
But what makes this area so special is its story of a community banding together against poverty and hardship to create what is now recognised by many of Malaga’s residents as the city’s true artistic neighbourhood.
A history of social issues
Home to about 4,000 people, Lagunillas is found north of the city’s historic centre, bordered by La Victoria and La Merced. A neighbourhood with a history of social issues, it was once ravaged by poverty, unemployment and drug problems. A failed urban plan by Malaga city hall to refurbish the area at the end of the 20th century left Lagunillas with a host of empty lots and abandoned houses, giving it a rundown and neglected appearance.
Driving change through art
In an attempt to revive his neighbourhood, in 2005, painter Miguel Ángel Chamorro founded the organisation Fantasía en Lagunillas, which aimed to give the area’s disadvantaged youth a sense of community and a means of self-expression through art. His initiative gave birth to Plaza Esperanza, an old car park which was transformed into a basketball court and meeting space for children to gather and play.
Chamorro brought the community together, delivering a cultural and civic education through art and instilling people with a sense of pride in their neighbourhood.
Through Chamorro’s initiative and the help of local artists, the streets of Lagunillas have turned into a kind of urban museum which attracts locals and tourists alike. Every available surface has been painted with brightly coloured murals depicting life in the neighbourhood. “Since the children painted them, nobody tarnishes them or wipes them away,” says Chamorro.
Meanwhile, as Chamorro was creating Fantasia en Lagunillas, local woman Concha Rodríguez was busy writing a daily motivational message on a blackboard on the wall of Calle Vital Aza, to encourage and inspire her neighbours. The artist Dita Segura noticed her work and encouraged her to turn her phrases into street art, in the hope of attracting local graffiti artists.
This led Concha to create El futuro está muy Grease, which calls itself “a cultural association of neighbours and friends of Lagunillas”. This association not only contributed to the spread of urban art throughout the neighbourhood, but also continues to help its residents through the collection of food and essential items and the organisation of cultural activities in the neighbourhood.
Its mural La Virgen del Descampao (The Virgin of the Wasteland), painted by Zaragozan artist Doger, criticises the systemic abandonment of neighbourhoods in poverty crises.
Various other grassroots cultural initiatives have sprung up within Lagunillas, including Radio Lagunillas, a local radio station which gives a voice to its marginalised community, Lagunillas Por Venir, a neighbourhood association formed to protect the interests of Lagunillas and collaborate with the public administration to revitalise the area, and La Polivente, which aims to create a multi-disciplinary cultural meeting space for locals, artists and visitors.
Lagunillas today: the heart of Malaga’s urban art scene
The foundation of these cultural and artistic organisations has led to a proliferation of vibrant, original murals and graffiti painted freely on the streets of Lagunillas. Nowadays, many Malagueños recognise it as the city’s authentic artistic hub.
The art found here is street art in its purest form, inspired by the challenges of life in this neighbourhood, but also by the sense of community, strength and hope among its residents. By attracting visitors intrigued by its urban art scene, Lagunillas hopes to remind outsiders of the struggles that still face their neighbourhood. “Art doesn’t look for spectators, art looks for witnesses,” claims one of Concha’s signs.
If you visit this neighbourhood, make sure to support its residents by visiting one of its local businesses, which include independent bookshop Librería Suburbia, hole-in-the-wall café La Oliva Negra, which sells artesanal empanadas, and traditional tapas bar El Tinglao de Lagunillas.
An English teacher and part-time writer with a love for literature and culture, Jen first swapped the Scottish gloom for the Spanish sun in 2019 when she arrived in Córdoba for her Erasmus year before moving to Malaga in 2021.