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