Cláudia fills her chest with air and pride when she’s invited to talk about the first street art piece that appeared at Quinta do Mocho.
The exterior wall of the three-story building makes an impact. In it, since 2014, there’s a portrait by the artist Nomen that shows a woman of color removing (or is it putting on?) a white face mask.
“This image represents who we are,” says the young guide. “Throughout our lives, we had to hide who we were or where we came from because Quinta do Mocho has always had the worst reputation. But not today.”
I’m in a public housing neighborhood in Sacavém, in the municipality of Loures, outside Lisbon. Quinta do Mocho was born to house many of the African immigrants and returnees from the former colonies, in the 1970s, who took root here.
The buildings are all the same, the same color. Streets and streets that intertwine. Clotheslines stand out in the middle of the sidewalk, there are abandoned pieces of furniture and goats walking around in the garden spaces.
I went there to see what is today the largest street art gallery in Lisbon and Europe. It aimed to give new life to that area and the people who remained there hidden from society.
“That was how we felt,” continues Cláudia about Nomen’s piece of art. “Whenever we left the neighborhood, we had to put on a mask and hide that we were from here. It happened to me. I worked in the tourist industry for many years and, when the time came to make me a working contract, I was told: ‘We like your job a lot, Cláudia, but we can’t give you one because you are from Quinta do Mocho’… “
I hear this story with a lump in my throat (and I write today with such sadness). How does the place where people come from completely define them in the eyes of others? Without leaving a chance to show who they really are…
“But today I’m proud to say that I’m from Quinta do Mocho!” says the young woman, whose age I point to between 20 and 25.
She abandoned her studies early, but became independent, working together with the Municipality of Loures and becoming a guide for her own community.
And Cláudia knows it like the back of her hand. Like she knows each of the nearly 100 pieces of street art that brought life and color to this place.
Nomen spent months at Quinta do Mocho, getting to know the residents, taking the pulse of this site, and transposing everyone’s feelings to the wall of that building. Like him, others came. National and international artists wanted to paint the walls of Mocho and be part of this project.
Bordalo II and Vhils are just two names from the group of Portuguese artists who passed through there and to whom so many foreigners joined, such as Astro Odv and Eva Bracamontes.
But the most recent paintings on the walls of the neighborhood are perhaps the most important: the plates with the names of the streets of Quinta do Mocho.
“Before, each street was a number, a lot, nothing else. And every time someone called an ambulance, the car got lost trying to find the right home. And there were even times when they arrived too late…”.
Those days are over, and Quinta do Mocho is different now. The residents continue to look suspiciously at strangers who stroll there but more accustomed to the movement of outsiders.
Whoever arrives for the first time finds the place strange, feels out of their comfort zone. But Cláudia is there to welcome everyone who wants to visit her “museum.”
She organizes guided tours every last Saturday of each month. It’s three hours walking the streets of Quinta do Mocho. Seeing every painting in the wall, learning the stories behind each work that represents the best of Lisbon’s street art.