Buenos Aires graffiti tour
The two bears tower above me but, thankfully, are oblivious to my presence. They’re each five metres tall but they’re still, silent and just stare at each other. I’m safe. Minutes earlier, two wolves had looked like they were about to attack each other, claws outstretched and fangs bared while, once again, I looked on. And earlier in the afternoon I had gazed into the eyes of a tiger with rage in its face.
Walking the streets of Buenos Aires, the images of the animals leap out from the walls of the buildings as you pass by. Although painted, they still feel alive. They’re joined on the facades by the quirky, the abstract and the angry. For in Argentina, graffiti is everywhere and has been embraced by the community. It has been taken to a level above petty vandalism. In the art, are meaning and an expression from the heart. In the art, the people find their voice, “the voice of the oppressed”, as it was explained at one point.
When Argentina emerged from the vices of a military dictatorship in the 1980s, graffiti blossomed as the restraints on free expression were lifted. There were interpretations of political messages but also a celebration of art for art’s sake. When the economy of the country crashed in 2001, the creative set again took to the streets to transform the city into a gallery.
Graffiti art of Buenos Aires
In the neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires around Palermo and Colegiales, colours explode from the walls of houses, shops and government buildings. The paintings are technically allowed on public spaces and, when it comes to private buildings, many owners are happy to host the art. Across the suburbs are diffused faces of coloured spectrums; abstract children of origin and intent unknown; and familiar shapes colliding with others to form a twisted mesh of meaning.
It’s possible to walk the areas on your own but in this case I was invited on a tour by local organisation graffitimundo which specialises in telling the stories behind the artwork. There are the tales of the police shootings that led to one of the largest designs on the streets; the young man who was rejected from using a space until his mother went and asked on his behalf; and even the art theft scandal when graffiti was lifted straight off the walls.
The word ‘graffiti’ is used a lot but most of the painters prefer the term ‘street artist’. Graffiti is for the naïve, their spray cans and their elementary tags. The real artist creates with meaning. As our tour guide, Ana, put it: “We are a young democracy and it’s important to be able to express ourselves”. The political stands alongside the fun, though. The angry and the colourful coexist in the community because they’re both saying something.
One of the most interesting things to hear about is the ‘conversations’ that occur between the artists. In this context, the conversation happens on the wall. “Artists know they give their work to the street,” Ana explains. “This is art for the community.” And so others often expand on the works. Through small additions and slight alterations a discussion is born from the art.
The conversations and discussion help bring it all to life. The pictures of the bears, the wolves and the tiger may have been benign but there is an energy within them. When you hear the stories behind the artwork, you can see the intensity of their existence.
graffitimundo runs walking tours on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday for 90 pesos per person or cycling tours each Sunday for 120 pesos per person.
You can find out more information on their website.
* Time Travel Turtle was a guest of graffitimundo but, as always, all opinions are his own.
* You can find more stories about Argentina here.
To get an update on the next Time Travel Turtle story, click on the LIKE button below: