Graffiti in Bogotá, Colombia
Set against the lush green of the Guadalupe and Monserrate mountains, Bogotá’s streets burst with color, from the polkadotted stands of jugos to the brightly colored colonial buildings. However, one of the greatest components of the city’s radiantly winding streets, especially in the artist-saturated neighborhood known as La Candelaria, is its street art. Wheatpastes, murals, throw-ups, tags, stickers and sculptures cover the walls, and there are even organized tours to help foreigners glean more information about the artists and history behind these pieces.
“The reason I started doing this was that I wanted to show people who visit Colombia that we have more to offer than coffee and cocaine,” says one tour guide, “I wanted to show another side of Colombia that is flourishing, a side you might not see otherwise.”
One of the reasons why graffiti and street art are so prevalent throughout the city is the general acceptance of them. Bogotá has become a hotbed for street artists from around the world looking for a city to embrace their artform, many of whom arrive with the intention of leaving their mark on the city. But in a twist of fate, the city ends up leaving its mark on many of the artists who ultimately stay as residents. The penalty for graffiti in Bogotá is equivalent to a parking ticket, and our guide explained that the enforcement of legislation surrounding street art has become even less strict since 16-year-old Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed by police officers while tagging under a bridge.
In addition to the legislative laxness, the owners of properties throughout Bogotá tend to welcome street art on their walls as the added layers of paint help to weather-proof the buildings, although many are less fond of the less-sophisticated scrawled declarations of soccer fandom. Unless the building is over 300 years old, there are no city permits needed to paint the building’s facade, making Bogotá a graffiti free-for-all. Once the owner has given permission to the artist, there is very little that can be done to intervene, the tour guide explains.
“This piece right here, I was with Tarbox2 and Crisp when they put this up. They just knocked on the window to the left, asked if they could paint there, the owner said what are you painting, they said a bird, and the owner shrugged, said okay, and then shut the window,” the guide elaborates about the above piece.
Oftentimes the police aren’t sent to intervene, but to protect the artists as they work, and there are even walls throughout the city where budding artists can legally practice their skills with police supervision. Artists throughout Bogotá now have the advantage of working in the daylight, and this has become common practice. Not only does it allow the artist to work with natural light and have the pride of receiving credit for their work, it also helps with the quality of the paint often affected by the cold evening temperatures of Bogotá.
With the aid of these very street art-friendly policies, there are countless artists who have been able to flourish. These are just a few.
Rodez, Malegria, Nomada
This father-and-sons crew is known for multiple sets of eyes, bright colored murals using multiple mediums and depictions of fish and other natural elements. The animated style that the father, Rodez, has carried over from his profession as a children’s book illustrator is also unique. When Rodez signs a piece, he includes the date and his name, but more interestingly, the names of people with whom he spoke while painting the piece.
APC- Animal Power Crew/Culture:
With Stinkfish being arguably the most famous of its members, APC, or Animal Power Crew or Culture, used interchangeably, is the most prolific crew throughout Bogotá, with pieces all over La Candelaria. Other members include FCO “Franko” and Timor. Bastardilla, a female artist whose very consistent portfolio includes pieces within a wide range of mediums, is another notable member.
Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the word “guache” was meant to indicate a protector, however with the arrival of the Spanish, the word was adjusted to mean thug or brute. This artist uses the name in an effort to reclaim the word.
While only a few of his pieces were seen on the tour, his style has influenced many who painted with him. He is known for being ambidextrous, and paints with both hands simultaneously.
Some of the Political Pieces
This mural depicts a hippo in reference to Pablo Escobar’s assassination. Escobar had imported various zoo animals, including zebras, elephants, giraffes and hippopotamuses, to his Hacienda Napoles, located between Medellín and Bogotá. After his death, while all the other animals were sent to zoos around the country, the hippos were left behind, and have prolifically procreated, creating a major problem for locals in the area. According to BBC, there are now between 50 and 60 hippos in this area. Before Escobar’s death, he once offered to pay all of Colombia’s national debt. The government declined.
Jaime Garzon was one of Colombia’s most prominent satirists, and was very popular on Colombian TV. He was assassinated at 38 years old in 1999. According to our guide, this propelled many Colombians to leave the country. The case is still open.
Created by a group of artists, there are a few sections to this piece starting with the Guache piece above. Each section has its own significance.
DJ Lou is a professor and former DJ who tends to keep his everyday life very separate from the street art world. His pieces come in layers, and for this piece, he started with the militant bugs, then moved onto the “piña,” playing on the double meaning of the word in Spanish which is used for both pineapple and grenade. Finally, he added images of homeless people, each created from photographs he had taken.
Toxicomano created the second piece with the message “trabajo sucio pero trabajo.” This speaks to the many people who depend on picking from recyclables to make a living. According to our guide, because the city has now made efforts to recycle on its own, many of these people have resorted to stealing manhole covers or the copper from electrical wires. Plastic manhole covers splatter the city with the words “non-recycleable” written across them.
Finally, Lesivo created a political piece that speaks for itself, conveying a blatant anti-consumerist message. Lesivo often gets tagged or buffed because his messages are known for being straight to the point and are often polarizing.
If you ever find yourself in Bogotá and want to learn more, check out Bogotá’s Graffiti Tours.
Words and photos: Megan Youngblood
See more of Megan’s writing here.