Back to Stories

Writing in the Margins

Discover Open Mic, a series of articles that celebrates Hennessy’s cultural richness and the passions of our communities. This month, editorial author Edd Norval shares his point of view on how urban Art, one of Hennessy’s most beloved expressions, became the undeniable art form it is today.

Writing in the Margins - Hennessy


The last decade has seen a dramatic shift in the way that urban culture is perceived and celebrated globally. For a long time, it was the problem child of the art world, the thing that would just never behave, an ugly blight on society’s otherwise cheerful facade. Graffiti was a blemish on a city’s architecture and socially conscious rap music sent shivers down the spines of the mainstream. Urban culture was to be kept in the shadows, from where it came.

Such pioneering and often subversive movements are able to weather storms of perception, thriving as popular sociocultural documents on the human condition. Testament to their resilience is the fact that people are, finally, beginning to take note. Many brands, seeing the value in what these voices have to say, are beginning to embrace them. Now you’ll find the graffiti’s lettering on the front of a Nike sweater, or underground filmmakers becoming festival darlings.

Many artists can be seen as having a pivotal role in facilitating this shift in perception towards urban culture, like graffiti’s Futura, Os Gêmeos or Alexandre Farto aka Vhils. Best known for his own innovative interpretation of urban art, Vhils’ iconic portraiture is formed by breaking away the facade of a wall, rather than adding to it as was the popular method in street art hitherto his emergence. The artist mused, “I noticed from a young age the dissonance between my perception of creating space for social reflection and what others viewed as a simple statement or even vandalism. This space of interpretation has fascinated me since and is something I wish to highlight and examine in all of my projects.”

Writing in the Margins - Hennessy


Space and place are pivotal parts of the urban cultural expression and Vhils’ art is inextricably linked to his hometown. Lisbon is very different today than it was a decade ago. You’d expect change over a decade and a half, but rarely to the magnitude of that which Lisbon has experienced. There was a clear shift in tone, from impoverished southern European capital to a European powerhouse of creativity. In amongst this chaos, Vhils’ art provided eloquence to these dissonant voices.

Vhils has sought to articulate this urban experience through Underdogs, a Lisbon cultural platform that focuses on art in both the gallery and public, fostering relationships between creator, public and city with an international roster of urban-inspired artists. Manifesting from the work done by the artist with Underdogs came the Iminente platform with particular focus on curating urban cultural experiences in an all-encompassing manner, making space for art, music, dance, architecture, design and even gastronomy to bubble together in a unique brew - one that highlights the relationships between the city, its people and their creative output.

Writing in the Margins - Hennessy


Iminente does that in two unique ways with two distinctive outcomes. Community Workshops is an outreach program focussing on promoting engagement with art in socially segregated communities. By encouraging local people to participate, they can express their biographies through various mediums that contribute to a grassroots production of urban culture.

Writing in the Margins - Hennessy

The other way is through the annual Festival Iminente, a celebration of urban culture that aims to honour and promote these burgeoning scenes. Artists and their art, installations, music, people and place have almost no interface - each absorbing and becoming a part of the other as if by cultural osmosis - just as it happens throughout Lisbon’s various communities. One minute you’re watching skateboarders outside on a customised half-pipe, working in synch with the accompanying hip-hop music and the next, you’re glancing through AKACORLEONE’s breathtakingly beautiful stained glass window that bathes the iconicTitanic-esque stairway - housed in Festival Iminente’s former home of the sweeping Miradouro Panorâmico de Monsanto - in its dazzling luminance.

Not so long ago, institutions in and around the art world wouldn’t think twice about urban culture. Now, brands recognise its role in society, embracing various movements and figures and acknowledging the vital voices and experiences articulated within them. Grime music in a television advert isn’t strange, neither is seeing high-end haute couture borrowing from the outsider - if not directly collaborating with them. 

That is the way art should always have been. Now, with boundaries increasingly permeable, the agenda is set by the pioneer - whether that’s a brand, movement or artist - and imagination rules once again. 

Discover VHILS artwork
Discover Festival IMINENTE


Photo credits:

Portrait of Karik by Vhils with Hennessy, Photo by Alexander Silva

Adapta artwork by Add Fuel, Photo by Add Fuel

Festival Imimente, Photo by Vera Marmelo

AKACORLEONE at Festival Iminente (2020) photo by Midnight Madness Crew

About Edd Norval 

A Scottish editorial author living in Aarhus Denmark, Edd Norval focuses on the psychology and behaviours within Art and Sports. Edd collaborates with, featuring the faces of today's best international urban art, one of Hennessy's most beloved artistic expressions.