One of Lonely Planet’s recommendations to check out in Buenos Aires was Graffitimundo. They lead walking tours around the theme of street art to help you get to know another side of this fascinating city. Like the free walking tours, it was led by a passionate local person who wanted to share her city/country with tourists. I found I was actively looking for graffiti as we continued our travels through South America.
Grafitti in South America is very different from what I was used to in North America (where “graffiti” is a disparaging term for illegally marking up private or public property). It started in Buenos Aires in the 1970s as a response to the military dictatorship. Dissent was strongly opposed and many young people left for Europe (or “disappeared”). Anonymous street art became a way to communicate and show opposition to the dictatorship and what was happening. The rallying cry was “the streets belong to the people”. Since the return to democracy in 1986, this concept of freedom of speech has become a guiding light, not only in Argentina but also in other South American countries as they transition to democracy, Read more about the politics of South America here
What this means is that demonstrations happen regularly and are not only tolerated, but expected. Monuments in public areas almost always have a subtle hidden political message. And every wall has some level of graffiti. Some of it is incredible original artwork by professional artists, others harken back to the anonymous stencils of the 70s while some are quick “tags” by anybody who cares to do so. These works are signed by the artist. Strictly speaking, graffiti should be done with spray paints, although some artists use more innovative techniques. My sense was that the adobe which is the standard building material (even for “modern” multistory buildings) lends itself to being painted. The streets belong to the people.
Our guide explained that there are some rules about graffiti. Any original work should be allowed to stay for about a year before another artist copies over (and some “should” remain forever if the message is important). If the graffiti recognizes someone who has died, it should remain untouched. It is permitted to tag any graffiti up as high as you can reach from the ground – which explains why some incredible works that cover three or four stories of a building will have amateur tags for the first six feet or so.
I was fascinated by all the art on the buildings, not only in Rio de Janeiro but also in all the other communities we passed through.
|On the way to the Escadaria Selardon, themselves an incredible form of street art. This portrait of a local leader had been briefly painted over (definitely against the rules of graffiti). It resulted in major protests and demonstrations until the portrait was replaced. You can see the tags around the portrait which are permitted.|
|A Japanese contribution to the graffiti on the walls of San Telmo (one of the artist neighborhoods). Our guide guessed that a visiting artist was inspired by an empty wall.|
The Graffitimundo tour led us through an area that had been the focus of an international graffiti convention, so we were introduced not only to Argentinian artists, but others from around the world.
|The signature of one of the female artists was this figure somewhere in her art.|
|There was a very existential explanation for this - each item has a meaning, or perhaps many. It was actually sponsored (and well paid for) by the owner of the house.|
|One of the international graffiti walls. A play on a classic painting of Napoleon with Don Quixote in the saddle instead. Note the tags on the bottom.|
|Memorializing Evita Peron|
|Another iconic female artist's signature|
|Part of an installation that ran an entire block. Two international artists collaborated on this - each started at one end of the street and met here where you can see the mixture of styles. Our guide is explaining this all.|
|Indigenous artist. Look closely to see the details. It would be very unusual to see anything about the Andean/Quechua/Inka religion this far east.|
|Fridha Kahlo was a Mexican artist who influenced South American art as well. This wall had some incredible three dimensional details.|
|An excellent example of the use of stencils. An artist will create the stencils and either decorate the walls themself, or sell them to others. This covered the wall of a local restaurant (sponsored by the owner)|
|And across the street, the owner also decorated his wall with stencils of another artist because everybody was going to the other restaurant!|
|Close up showing how the artist made use of the rough surface of the wall|
|In one of the local bars (where our tour ended), the artist who had created the two large animals fighting had come for a beer. While there, he doodled this almost life sized "Eddie"|
|The white scarf stencils were through out Argentina - these ones in El Calafate. 24 de Marzo is the date of the military coup in 1976 and is a major memorial holiday.|
Chili’s military dictatorship approximately paralleled Argentina (1973 to 1990) and I was watching for graffiti. These photos are of street art in Pucon just before we arrived in Santiago. The art in Santiago focused on statues and three dimensional monuments. Any grafitti was more of the amateur quick spray paint variety.
|This little fellow, on the gate to our hostel, is decorated with indigenous designs - possibly Mapuche.|
Bolivia and Peru
I didn’t find any obvious graffiti in these two countries, my sense (from walking tours) was that dissent was less tolerated there.
Our time in Ecuador was rushed, but on a free day in Quito (where I was looking for a replacement camera in a country that didn't seem to sell cameras) I had a chance to explore the area outside the historical center (which definitely did not have any grafitti).
|On a wall in the artists district of Cuenca|
|Arriving at our hotel in Quito. On the right, in the style of Guayasamin (Quito's iconic artist) and on the left was a recognition of indigenous rights.|
|Walking along one of the main streets, again in the style of Guayusamin|
The graffiti of Cartagena’s historic center was actually part of our walking tour – in 2013 the city had hosted a graffiti convention.
|Along the streets of Popayan|
|Along the sea wall in Cartagena. Tribute to a local actress.|
|Recognizing the mayor, a former boxer.|
|Another example of Maria Mulata|
|In support of homes for everyone.|
|The bicycle in front just makes the picture.|