In the bustling streets of Portugal, emerging as an eccentric persona in the world of street art is an artist known as Vihls, born Alexandre Farto. His unique method entails etching detailed portraits straight onto city walls, offering a material and profound manifestation of his creative vision.
Vhils' artistic career is intricately linked to Portugal's urban and cultural environment. He was born in 1987 and grew up in an era of urban change, when he saw modern construction contrasted with old buildings. His early curiosity about the changing urban landscape served as the inspiration for his own creative style, which mixes inventive carving methods with classic graffiti techniques.
Vhils started experimenting with this style of art in the early 2000s. He made remarkable portraits that appear to grow naturally out of the walls they are painted on by using chisels, jackhammers, and other unusual instruments.
Vhils' art actively aligns with several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, most notably those related to poverty, inequality, and environmental issues. Through his art, Vhils brings attention to the struggles and narratives of marginalized communities, shedding light on the socio-economic disparities that persist in urban landscapes and reflecting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for No Poverty. His portraits serve as visual testimonials, urging viewers to confront the reality of poverty and inequality within their own communities.
Furthermore, Vhils' work intersects with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Reduced Inequality. By carving the faces of individuals who may be overlooked or forgotten, he creates a platform for the voices of the underrepresented to be heard. His art prompts a reflection on the inherent humanity shared by all, fostering empathy and understanding across societal divides.
In an interview with DTF Magazine, the artist shared that “the idea of turning ordinary, common people into icons, instead of creating icons out of people who have changed history.”
In addressing environmental issues, Vhils also contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Responsible Consumption and Production. Rather than creating additional waste through traditional art mediums, his chosen method involves repurposing existing urban structures. By carving into walls, he minimizes his environmental footprint, emphasizing the importance of sustainable artistic practices and encouraging a broader conversation on responsible consumption.
“I wanted to push what I was doing in the public space,” he says. “I sort of realized that all of us were adding layers to walls; they were accumulating the layers of change,” he said in an interview with Euro News.
Vhils moved to London to study when he was about 19 years old, and his big break came when he was asked to participate in the 2008 Can's festival, which included some of the biggest names in urban art, according to Euro News.
Vhils had the good fortune to be positioned close to the enigmatic and renowned artist Banksy at that occasion. His career took off after that event, demonstrating to the world that his art could find an audience outside of Portugal.
His carved portraits transcend the conventional boundaries of street art, transforming urban landscapes into canvases that bear witness to the stories of marginalized communities. At the intersection of aesthetics and activism, Vhils has carved a path for societal reflection, prompting viewers to engage with the pressing issues of poverty, inequality, and environmental sustainability. In each stroke of his chisel, Vhils not only sculpts a visual masterpiece but also shapes a narrative that challenges us to strive for a more inclusive and sustainable world.