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The Water Tribunal through the eyes of Antoni Miró

Jordi Tormo

“The Door of the Apostles, old, reddish, corroded by the centuries, displaying its eroded beauties in the light of the sun, creating a backdrop worthy of the ancient tribunal, was like a stone canopy created to give shelter to a 500-year-old institution”.
La barraca, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

Water has always been present in our history. It is a source of life. It has been and continues to be essential for developing social well-being, improving quality of life and developing the economy. For this reason, humans have always fought to acquire a supply of the element. The waters of the Molinar d’Alcoi contributed the power necessary to give birth to industry in the Valencian Country. The waterfalls along the river served to generate the energy needed to turn the waterwheels which made the mills and the textile and paper industry work, whilst the water ran off through the channels. In the same way, the waters of the Turia, distributed via a number of irrigation ditches, gave birth to L’Horta de Valencia (the gardens of Valencia). Their waters have irrigated and continue to irrigate our land to this day. And this is the reason for the Tribunal of the Waters of the Plain of Valencia, a 1000-year-old institution which came into existence to resolve the conflicts which arose from the supply of water to those who used it for irrigation. The factories and L’Horta are part of our most cherished heritage.

The Water Tribunal has been, variously, painted, etched, illustrated and drawn by José Benlliure, Bernardo Ferrándiz, Gustavo Doré, Tomás Rocafort, Ernesto Furió. Now it is the turn of the contemporary artist Antoni Miró to lend it his own unique vision. Throughout his career, the painter from Alcoi has adopted numerous approaches: expressionism, neo-figurativism, social criticism, pop art, symbolic figurativism, abstract painting and the movement entitled Crónica de la Realidad. Miró is a versatile, creative and effective artist. His is a psychological approach whose psychoanalysis defies the passing of time. His is also a political painting, which take sides. He adopts an attitude with regard to today’s reality and is critical of it as he speaks of now and because he denounces injustice through his canvases. His painting is deeply committed ideologically, non-conformist, humanitarian, combative, accusatory, rebellious and free. And he does this all without ceasing to be absolutely contemporary and beautiful. In this collection, his brushstroke stops in time, just as the Tribunal has done throughout our history. It does so to speak to us of justice and tradition, to show us images and details of the most important element of the Tribunal to help us discover and understand this vital element of Valencian heritage which was recognised in 2009 by unesco as World Intangible Cultural Heritage.

In his 1898 novel La barraca, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez wrote: “it was Thursday, and, following a custom dating back centuries, the Water Tribunal was due to meet at the Door of the Apostles of the Valencia Cathedral. The clock tower known as the Miguelete showed that it was just past ten and the inhabitants of L’Horta were gathering in small groups or taking seats on the edges of the basin of the fountain in the square”. Today, the Water Tribunal continues to generate expectation. The members of the Tribunal are accompanied by local residents and tourists to Valencia who gather there every Thursday when the bells of the Micalet de la Seu strike 12:00 in order to see the members gather at the Gothic Door of the Apostles of Valencia Cathedral to deliver justice and resolve conflicts amongst the irrigators.

The activity of the Water Tribunal, the oldest judicial institution in Europe working towards the negotiated and peaceful resolution of conflicts linked to the use of irrigation water, dates back to the times of Al-Andalus, although it wasn’t until the conquest of the Kingdom of Valencia by the troops of James I that it took its current form. It is an institution which has been maintained throughout history and which has been respected in all the legislative reforms which have been approved since then. With this display, Miró manages to awaken our interest to find out more about the Tribunal, to know in detail its origin, importance, organization and function. In his paintings the painter from Alcoi speaks to us of justice, peace, heritage, culture, nationhood, traditions and focuses above all on the human and natural context of the Tribunal.

Throughout his career, Miró has employed various different resources, approaches, techniques, materials and styles. What he has learnt has enabled him to develop a series of characteristic features in his work, which are clearly present in this collection. Here in his 25 acrylics on canvas, he shows us his own images of the Tribunal’s work resolving conflicts over the waters of the Turia and the irrigation channels and dams which it regulates. He reveals to us this immensely important legacy of the history of Valencia and the task of its members: the president, the vice-president, the sheriff and the guards, as representatives of the irrigation channels, all cultivators considered “honest men”. He shows us the guards waiting at the Casa Vestuari (Robing House), the members meeting, the sessions they hold, the interest they arouse, the Door of the Apostles, the “hook” present year after year, and the Turia and its channels. He focuses on what he considers to be essential, playing with effects, colours and positions on the canvas.

And this series also guides our attention to the rich hydrological heritage of the irrigation channels and dams governed by the Tribunal: those of Quart, Benàger and Faitanar, Tormos, Mislata, Xirivella, Mestalla, Favara, Rascanya and Rovella. His painting always have a unambiguous title: El cercat (The Fence), El corralet (The Enclosure), Expectació (Expectation) and Repartiment (Distribution) are just a few examples. Moreover, Miró offers us a different and experimental view with his 25 digital variations on canvas which he carried out for the occasion on which he plays with colours, positioning and focus. And as always, the details are always present in his work: the members of the Tribunal area always recognisable, there is always a Valencian flag evoking the origins of the Tribunal, a red beret for the Apostle and a protest graffito reminding we are in Valencia.

Antoni Miró and the Water Tribunal have much in common which makes them leaders in their respective fields. While Miró is a distinguished painter within the world of Valencian art and culture due to his work, career, and international renown, the Water Tribunal is a distinguished institution which is essential for an understanding the cultural heritage of today’s Valencian Country. While the activity of the Tribunal is noted for its orality, Miró uses the same language, Valencian, as the members of the Tribunal to name his paintings. While the activity of the Tribunal takes place in one single act held every Thursday to resolve the problems of the irrigators, Miró immortalises all he wishes to transmit in a painting directly and with a succinct title. His images speak for themselves. While the activity of the tribunal is public and open, Miró brings art to the citizens through his works present in the museums and exhibition rooms in order to generate a responsible, public and open debate. While the activity of the tribunal is free to all those involved and its members receive no remuneration, Miró brings culture to society via his painting without expecting anything in return. The connection between the two is more than evident. Let us enjoy it!


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