THE CAPILLA GITANA IN THE MODELO PRISON IN BARCELONA


Helios Gómez's political activism and the publication of drawings showing his strong commitment in social protest often brought the artist to prison. In 1950, in the course of one of his long periods of imprisonment -between 1948 and 1954- at the pressing request of the chaplain of the Modelo prison in Barcelona, Bienvenido Lahoz, a priest of the Order of Mercy, Helios Gómez agreed to paint frescos consecrated to the Virgen de la Merced, the Virgin of Mercy, patron saint of Barcelona and of prisoners. This oratory is situated in cell nº 1, on the first floor


Detail of the frontal fresco

of the fourth gallery. Because the figures painted on the fresco have gipsy-like features, it has been known from its first production as the Capilla Gitana. This work of art, the inspiration of an internationally recognized artist, is part of the city's cultural heritage.

The artist's son photographed the frescos for the last time in their original state in 1985, and copies were given to the prison authorities as evidence. In 1998, they were painted over by the prison staff, for "hygienic reasons" according to the ministry's director of public relations. This damage was done under the direction of the Catalan Justice Minister of the time, Nuria de Gispert, in direct contravention of intellectual property legislation. In the context of the Generalitat's speculative operations concerning the site of the Modelo prison, requests for Helios Gómez's work to be restored were never acknowledged. These requests were made to the Justice Minister, Nuria de Gispert, Consellera de Justicia (18/11/98), to the Minister of Culture, Joan Mª Pujals, Conseller de Cultura (30/11/98), to the Ombudsman, Anton Cañellas (3/12/98) and to the then Director-General of Cultural Heritage, José Mª Huguet (21/4/99). Numerous articles published in the press in defence of the work met with no greater response from the administration: see José Mª Huertas, "La desapareguda Capella dels Gitanos", in El Periódico, 26/2/98; Emil Herman, "Helios Gómez artista universal" in La Varguardia, 5/5/98; Xavier Barral i Altet (former director of the National Museum Of Catalonia Art), "Atemptat contra l'art a la Model", in Avui, 9/6/98; Pedro Burruezo, "Que no se pierda la Capilla Gitana", in ABC Cataluña, 30/1/99; "La Capella Gitana de l`Helios Gómez", in EL TRIANGLE 10/3/99; Gabriel Gómez, "La Capilla Gitana, el arte silenciado", in Boletín de la Plataforma La Model per la Cultura, May 2000; Lluis Permanyer, "Arte entre rejas no es Modelo", in La Vanguardia, 2/6/2001. However, the association's protest has received the support of personalities and groups, among whom: Antoni Tapies (painter), Lluis Carod Rovira (president of Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña), Teresa Pamies (writer), Daniel Giralt Miracle (art critic), Carles Fontseré (artist), Abel Paz (historian), Forges (artist), Joan Manuel Serrat (singer), the association SOS Monuments, the Federacion de Asociaciones de Vecinos de Barcelona (Federation of Barcelona Citizen's), the Agrupación Profesional de Ilustradores de Madrid y Cataluña (Professional grouping's of ilustrators of Madrid and Catalonia), etc. The history of the Modelo prison is closely linked with the sufferings of three generations of victims of repression. The opponents of the dictatorial regime of 1939 lost their lives there, but in addition the lives of their families and friends, of their children and grand-children, were blighted too. A number of present-day politicians and Catalan leaders were also incarcerated there. All this gives the remarkable building a huge significance. The existence of the frescos of the Capilla Gitana amply justifies the association's demand for restoration of the work of art, and for dedication of the site as a place of historical memory, where the graphic art and documents concerning Helios Gómez can be displayed, and where special exhibitions of imprisoned artists and political art can be mounted.


Detail of the fresco above the door


DVD 20 mn. en defensa del Museo de Arte Político

Proyecto Prisión Modelo en Youtube


© Associació Cultural Helios Gómez
Email: associacio@heliosgomez.org