Contemporary Colombia Street Art

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota. Female Warrior Mural

One thing you might find surprising about contemporary Colombia is that it has a thriving street art scene. You’ll also find that the scene is not just for locals. Many international artists regularly create murals and other art pieces around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota La Candelaria Memorial Mural

As Bogota was where Colombia’s street art scene was born, it will be the main focus of this article. That doesn’t mean that it’s the only Colombian town with a vibrant art scene. The events that lead to the explosion of the scene in Bogota, also ensured that it made it’s way to other cities in Colombia.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Diversity Mural

I was lucky enough to meet a street artist while I was in Bogota. He was more than happy to show me around and overload me with information. He’s an international artist who loved the Bogotan art scene so much that he decided to relocate there many years ago. You could say that he knows the scene pretty well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Old Man and Mural

Insider Art Tour

I felt that I’d hit the jackpot by getting shown the best street art areas by an artist who was clearly passionate. Not just about the art, but also about the place. He was happy to share some interesting insights into the scene and how it became what it is today.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Space Mural

Street art wasn’t always a viable form of expression in Colombia. In fact, it was quite the opposite and one point! Back in the early 21st century, artists would complete their works under the cover of darkness. Until 2011, when two police officers tragically shot down a teenager in the process of painting his trademark Felix the Cat image.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Mural of a Boy

The Tragedy that Turned the Tide

As you could imagine, the shooting sent shockwaves through the community and caused citywide protests. People weren’t happy that a young life was taken over something so innocuous, nor the way the Police tried to cover it up. The ensuing international and public outcry caused the mayor of Bogota to issue a decree decriminalising graffiti and street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Beetle Mural

That decree of course came with a few exceptions. Public buildings and monuments were to be left alone. Artists also had to seek permission from the owner of the building before creating their works. Most building owners were happy to give it, as they got their premises decorated for free.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Woman and Dog Mural

Things got off to a shaky start, but eventually lead to a city that not only encouraged, but whole-heartedly embraced street art. With police that protected the artist’s rights to create. There is now an unwritten code between artists to protect each others work as well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Mural

In some cases, police will even accompany artists while they are creating. To ensure that they can finish their work safely. As long as the artist has gotten the proper permissions. It’s amazing how transformative not treating artists like criminals can be for a city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota La Candelaria Mural

Contemporary Colombia Street Art – Political Expresison

Much of the wall art in Bogota leans toward fantasy or upbeat topics, with generous usage of colours. However, some in the city prefer to use the medium to share their political views or comment on social issues.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Segregation Mural K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Bicycle Stencil

I was told that artists use political paintings to alert locals to things that may be happening without their knowledge. Or state their disagreement with the way some things are being done. By doing this, they hope to start conversations that will empower others to stand up for what is right.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Political Mural

Contemporary Colombia Street Art – Different Mediums of Art Expression

While the majority of the street art in Bogota comes in the form of murals or graffiti, there are also three other widely used street art techniques. One of those is stenciling. This is quite often used for political pieces. The artist will make a stencil and place their work in several different places.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Stenciling

The other one is called stickering. As the name suggests, it involves using custom made stickers to get a message across. Stickering tends to be more overtly political or satirical than the other mediums of expression.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Stickering

The last and least used medium is probably tagging. That’s due partly to the fact that it gained a bad reputation within the scene, when tags were painted over others art. This is of course hugely frowned upon and once word got around that it wouldn’t be tolerated by the community, it stopped. The negative association with tagging however, wasn’t so quick to die off.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Tagging

Cats, Cats and More Cats

I couldn’t help but notice that a great deal of the murals and artworks in town were of cats. This brought me to two conclusions. Either artists in Bogota are obsessed with cats. Or this is a subtle homage to the life of the teenager whose death brought about the change that made all current works possible.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Cat Mural 1 K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Cat Mural 2 K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Big Cat

Who needs YouTube cat videos when you can look at beautifully creepy cats like these?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Colourful Cat Mural

Contemporary Colombia Street Art – Bringing Colour and Hope to Low Income Neighbourhoods

Some artists are very active within the community and have partnered with local businesses. These businesses are helping to realise the artists’ dreams of touching the lives of the less fortunate through their art. The first step towards that dream involves beautifying those communities with murals that span many buildings. When viewed from a focal point, those paintings come together to create a master mural.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Dragon Mural

After beautifying, the aim is to get youth involved in the street art scene. The idea being that giving people in these low-income areas opportunities will give them the chance at a brighter future. And keep them away from other, possibly destructive pastimes.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia Street Art. Bogota Traditional Woman

All in all, the street art scene in Colombia is pretty freaking amazing. It really adds an overall positive vibe to the atmosphere of the place. You could literally spend days walking around admiring the art. It’s also kind of exiting to walk along and wonder what will be painted on the next wall.

If you’re interested in more Colombian adventures, check out my previous post, Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities

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Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities

After having a pretty amazing time in Panama City, it was time to move on to contemporary Colombia and visit some of its colourful cities. Due to some pretty heavy time constraints, I had to give up the idea of taking a boat from Panama to Colombia and hop on a plane. It was a quick flight, given the short distance between the capitals of the two countries. I left a sunny morning in Panama City to arrive in Bogota for an even sunnier afternoon.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Bogota

The Eldorado International Aiport in Bogota was impressive and I’ve gotta admit that it took me a while to find my way out. I stopped to ask an airport worker how to get to the nearby bus stop and he didn’t know. Luckily, there was a local within hearing range who did know where it was. He gave me directions but then tried to dissuade me from taking the bus. He advised that I may have to wait for some time and that the ride into town is very long. I told him I was okay with that.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area

One thing I noticed almost straight away about Bogota is that it seemed to be a city of art. In the couple of minutes it had taken me to walk to the bus stop, I had already seen 2 art installations!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area Art

Making New Friends

As I was waiting for the bus, a car that was exiting the airport pulled up to the bus stop. The man that had directed me before, Andres, was inside. He asked me if I wanted a lift into the city. I accepted and got in the car, where he then proceeded to semi-lecture me about how I should be careful because not all people were good like him. He then proceeded to tell me how he was a singer and was heading out to Ibague in a few days to visit his brother.

Andres asked where I was going next. I hadn’t actually planned that far ahead, so I advised him that I didn’t know where I would go after Bogota. I just knew that I needed to head towards Cali to get to Ecuador. He said that I could tag along with him to Ibague if I wanted to. From there I could get a bus to Cali and onto Ecuador. That seemed like a great option as Ibague was only about a 4 hour drive away. We exchanged numbers so that we could arrange things a few days later.

La Candelaria Centro

La Candelaria Centro is the Colombian equivalent of an Old Town. It’s a very cute and vibrant area, which is very easy to find your way around. Like all old towns, it is full of narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial buildings. Perhaps one of the more interesting things about this old town is that many of the buildings have also become canvases for graffiti and street art from all over the world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and it's Colourful Cities. La Candelaria

To say that street art is alive and well in Colombia would be an absolute understatement! The art scene there is so prolific that I actually had to write a separate article about it! The scene was born out of an unfortunate event and currently attracts not just local, but also famous international street artists. Many eager to leave a piece of themselves in Bogota.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Traditional Mural

Paint is not the only form of artistic expression in the city. Other forms of art, including sculptures and structures made from recycled goods, are highly visible as well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Bicycle Christmas Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Roof Top Art

Affordability

Aside from its visual awesomeness, Bogota, and the whole of Colombia for that matter, is surprisingly kind on the wallet. You can find shared accommodation for US$6-10/night. Sometimes you can even get a simple hotel room for under US$10/night. Dining out in Colombia is also inexpensive, with a meal and a drink at a small restaurant easily coming in at under US$10. By far the best way to dine in Colombia is on the streets!

If you want to find the real tastes of Colombia, street vendors are where it’s at. All the traditional local foods, like Almojábanas, Arepas and Empanadas, can be purchased from roadside carts for less than $2 a meal. And they are utterly delicious. If you want to know how locals live, visiting a street food cart is an excellent way to find out!

Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill

From anywhere you stand in Bogota, you can see the sister mountains of Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill towering high above the city. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’re probably aware that if there’s a hill around, I’ll find a way to climb it. The powers that be were determined for that not to happen though. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to see that the hiking trail up the mountain was closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. The Base of Monserrate

I asked the staff when it would be open again and they said it was closed permanently. They said it was due to the increasing degradation caused by the constant stream of people making the pilgrimage up the hill. They also alluded to the fact that there had been some serious injuries or possibly even deaths on the trail. So that was disappointing. However, I have heard that it has since been reopened again.

Getting to the Top

The other ways of scaling the hill involved money, of course. If the walking option was out, I thought the funicular, the cheapest of the 2 options at US$3, might be fun. But guess what? It was closed for maintenance! So, with no other choice, I took the most expensive option; the cable car at around US$4 each way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cable Car up to Monserrate

At 3152m, Monserrate, along with its sister mountain, Guadalupe Hill, rises far above the fair city of Bogota. As it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, it makes sense that you can see the whole city from the top of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. View From Monserrate

Aside from the beautiful view, there is actually a surprising amount of things to do at the top. You can meander through the small market where locals try to sell you their authentic local trinkets. Or you can have a meal at one of several restaurants there. Or you can simply just walk around the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Display at Monserrate

There was also a small exhibition up there when I went. I’m not sure if that’s something that happens often, but even without the exhibition, it was still lovely to walk around. The area had been manicured to look pretty and I was lucky to be there when there wasn’t many other people around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. At the Top of Monserrate

Perhaps the most interesting building on Monserrate was the church. This isn’t a normal church mind you. It’s a 17th century church devoted to El Señor Caído, or the Fallen Lord. On Sundays, devotees of the church will follow the pilgrimage path up the hill to show that they are worthy. Some will even offer sacrifices. It’s probably best to avoid going up on a Sunday if you can.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. El Señor Caído At the Top of Monserrate

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Ibague

When it was time to move on, Andres, the man I had met a few days earlier, picked me up. He had some things to attend to in the morning, so we left in the afternoon for the small city of Ibague. The city is 200km west of Bogota in the Andean region of Colombia. It was also a strange combination of people-sized Christmas decorations and dirt.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Train K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Decoration

Andres managed to find me a US$9 hotel room for me to stay in. I never would’ve found it by myself and even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to get in. A lot of accommodation in Colombia will have a sign out front with the owner’s number. You’re expected to call on arrival for access, which is hard to do without a local phone! The place was surprisingly decent and clean. They even had complimentary tea. Everything was going well until I decided to have a shower and there was no shower head. I found that really odd, but it was fixed as soon as I alerted the owner, so no harm done.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – On The Road Again

The next morning, I explored the city for a little while before heading to the bus station for my onward journey to Ecuador. I first had to go through Cali, around 200km southwest of Ibague. Although it was in good condition, the road to Cali was very windy and steep in some sections.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Unscheduled Stop on the Way to Cali

The picture above marks one of the spots where our coach came to a complete stop, due to a traffic jam. In the middle of nowhere on a windy mountain road. I was amazed at how many locals appeared from seemingly nowhere. They must’ve been loving the huge line of stationary vehicles before them. It gave them a chance to sell their overpriced refreshments to those who didn’t prepare themselves for traffic jams. The 323km trip from Ibague to Cali took 13 hours! Must be a new land (anti) speed record!

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Cali

I had not planned to stay long in this city, but I did notice some quirky things about it while I was there. First of all, the palm trees that lined some streets had been made into a fan shape.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Sculptured Ferns

From outward appearances, it was a very clean city, industrialised city. But a few minutes walk was all it took to go from a beautifully presented area to a gritty market area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Fountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Market

Or to find some street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Art

Perhaps the best thing about Colombia was the readily available packets of banana chips dressed in the national colours. They were a great companion for the long drives between cities and countries.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Banana Chips

Check out the next installment of the South American adventure in Journey to the Middle of the world.

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