About the project

Guillermo Vitale (1907-1992) found art late in life, or perhaps it was art that found him.

He dropped a bathroom tile whilst doing repairs in his house and in the pieces scattered on the floor, he discovered his vocation. It is perhaps a fortuitous paradox that a pensioner with impoverished eyesight was destined to create the most exquisite visual representation of community life in Cerro – a spirited neighbourhood of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. Until his death – aged 85 – he created over 100 mosaics commemorating community heroes of international and local fame. He built playgrounds with recycled materials, collected signatures to petition the authorities to grant his neighbourhood independent status as a city, gardened the roadside entries to Cerro and was known to everybody as an expert in local history, forever pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with the materials of his art.

This project seeks to preserve and reinvigorate Vitale’s legacy as emblematic of Cerro, through a conceptual community art project that will bring together a significant cross- section of the community with artists, researchers, and cultural institutions. Through collaborative and participatory processes, this “Vitale Crew” will:

  • Devise and implement a collective strategy for the preservation of Vitale’s legacy and its deployment as a radical tool for grassroots-led regeneration.
  • Work to reconstitute the public image of the neighborhood, contesting media and mainstream stigmatising of the area as marginal and dangerous.
  • Implicate a younger generation of Cerrences in the cultural life of their neighbourhood, both as custodians of its heritage and as active creators of new community narratives of generosity and civic service.

The project will follow a work process developed over more than 10 years of working with people from all walks of life in community-based art projects. My methodology is informed by permaculture ethics and principles, feminist theory and human geography research, and uses the skills and techniques of community organizing and grassroots cultural activism. At the heart of my practice is a belief in the political importance of self-organised cultural production situated at a local level. I work from the position that the overlapping and sometimes conflicting communities attached to a particular place are the central core from where the ideas and outcomes of any project emerge and should be of primary benefit to.

About the artist

Like Vitale, I was born in Montevideo in a family of economic migrants. Aged 19, I moved to Europe escaping my parents’ expectations of marriage and University. After training as a woodcarver and working in a religious sculpture workshop in Madrid during the 1990s, I gradually transited towards conceptual art, seeking to find a happier encounter between artistic vocation and political activism. In 1997 I graduated with an MA from Central St Martins College of Art & Design.

With growing interest in socially-oriented work, came commissions from public institutions: Whitechapel Gallery, Gasworks, Arts & Business, La Casa Encendida (Madrid), Tate Modern and Tate Britain. Alongside, I sustained an independent and long-term body of work in South London, that achieved wider recognition with the international reach of the project
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