One of Barcelona’s best-known pieces of public art is a 30m long blood-red mural intended to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.
The mural was painted in 1989 by American artist Keith Haring, who was diagnosed HIV positive three years earlier. Famous for his graffiti-inspired artwork on the New York Metro, Haring was invited to paint in Barcelona while in Spain for the ARCO contemporary art festival in Madrid.
The design features a giant red snake chasing a group of figures who are running away in terror with their hands in the air. Meanwhile, the snake clutches a giant hypodermic syringe next to a dead body that lies prone on the ground.
Two people in the form of scissors are cutting the snake in half while a couple embraces, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are in the clutches of the beast. Another figure is placing a condom on the snake’s tail.
After this comes a group of 3 larger figures in the poses of the three wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) followed by another snake being killed by a figure wielding a steak.
Painting freehand, Haring took 5 hours to complete the mural which terminates with his signature and the message Todos Juntos Podemos Parar el SIDA (together we can stop AIDS).
The original mural was painted on a low wall in one of the seediest areas of El Raval and quickly succumbed to the passage of time. Not long after completion, the painting was tagged and defaced by local graffiti artists. The owner of a nearby brothel is also said to have had a hand in the mural’s demise, fearing that it would scare away customers.
Finally in 1992, when Plaça de Salvador Seguí was remodelled to make way for the Filmoteca de Catalunya, a team of conservators from the MACBA contemporary art museum took samples of the original paint and made a full-sized template which could be used to make a replica of Haring’s work.
To date the mural has been recreated 3 times on a grey concrete wall next to the MACBA museum, a few hundred metres from its original location. The current version was painted in 2014 for an event marking the 25th anniversary of the original.
About the Artist
Kieth Haring was born in Pennsylvania USA in 1958. He briefly studied at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh before moving to New York where he studied at the School of Visual Arts and got involved in the alternative art scene.
Haring gained international recognition during the 1980s when he began drawing on unused advertising hoardings on the New York Metro. He went on to paint more than 50 public works in cities around the world. Many of his creations, like the one in Barcelona, had a social message. He also painted murals for charities, hospitals and orphanages and held drawing workshops for children in museums and schools.
He was diagnosed HIV positive in 1986 and with AIDS in 1988. In 1989 he created the Keith Haring foundation to provide funding for AIDS organizations and children’s programs. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1990, aged 31.
Video: Keith Haring in Barcelona
The mural is located next to the MACBA museum in the El Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona.
How to get there
The nearest metro station is Universitat on the L1 (red) and L2 (purple) lines. The Liceu and Catalunya metro stops are also nearby.