When I was a kid my family went into Philadelphia every so often for a meal or to go shopping. We lived out in the suburbs so in order to reach where we wanted to go in the city, we had to drive through some parts of Philadelphia that was a bit “rough around the edges.” As soon as we entered that neighborhood I’d hear a simultaneous click on all four doors of my Dad’s car, signaling that we needed the extra protection of rolled up windows and locked doors, and that I should not make eye contact with anyone that might be passing us by. There was trash all over the streets, abandoned cars with flat tires that seemed to be growing roots, and there was graffiti. Lots and lots of graffiti.
New York City was a dangerous place, too back then. My Grandmother who lived in Manhattan in the late 70s and early 80s used to tell me stories about how dirty and terrible New York City was. She said people were robbed and murdered all the time, and that the streets were terribly dirty. She said even the buses and subways were covered with graffiti. Lots and lots of graffiti.
In a city dotted with gorgeous French style mansions there is also lots and lots of graffiti in Buenos Aires. In certain areas of the city, it definitely give the impression that this is a dirty and dangerous place. But after a week or two of living here and getting familiar with my surroundings, I began to notice colorful paintings under bridges and all along the tall walls that frame the park near my apartment. Some of them are so creative and fun that you can’t help but to stop and stare, and wonder who painted all this. So on Thursday I went on a graffiti art tour of Buenos Aires.
This organization, graffiti mundo, was started by a couple of Brits who came to appreciate this form of street art, and now they run tours to promote and celebrate the artists who create them. Our guide, Cecelia, was an articulate and engaging Porteña who clearly loved graffiti art and her city. I learned that while it is illegal to deface public property, the authorities here are extremely lenient in enforcing those laws. Most of the serious graffiti artists are well respected and they’re certainly not criminals. Before they start working on a new project they ask the property owners or they’re granted permission and at times commissioned to paint on walls, doors, and buildings all over Buenos Aires.
The three hour tour took us around Palermo Hollywood, Villa Crespo, and ended in Palermo Soho at Post Street Bar where the entire building is covered in stencils and graffiti paintings. They even have a small art gallery (Hollywood in Cambodia) and you can purchase some of the art work there as well. One of the stops along the way was an Italian restaurant whose owner asked various graffiti artists to paint/decorate the interior. We went to a bus depot where an entire square block’s surrounding walls were covered in various graffiti art.
There was an apartment building with the largest graffiti art I’d ever seen and at a playground beyond the swing sets a mural of urban creation confidently displayed its vibrant colors.
Some were repetitions of phrases the stencil artist liked, some made cultural references to pop icons, some depicted cartoon characters, some carried political beliefs, some were in support (I mean, diehard love) of their favorite football team, and some were just childish and silly. We had a chance to meet some of the artists at their studio, which was an unexpected surprise.
My group of tourists were an interesting mix of people from all over the globe that also made the afternoon a whole lot of fun. Some of us stayed at the bar after the tour for a beer and to share stories about where we’d been and what’s waiting ahead of us.
Oddly enough I had dinner at a closed-door restaurant that evening and our server told me how he is a graphic artist and he knows a bunch of the graffiti artists whose paintings I’d seen earlier in the day. He gave me a list of websites where I can see some of his own work. He does some really cool stuff! There is a great group of young artists here and I have a feeling I’ve only just scratched the surface. I find it fascinating that this city and its citizens have come to embrace this urban street art form rather than condemn or criticize it. Certainly my perception of graffiti and what it represents has changed. Graffiti can be awesome!
For more information on Graffiti Mundo: www.graffitimundo.com
Buenos Aires Street Art and Graffiti: www.buenosairesstreetart.com
Post Street Bar: Thames 1885 (between Nicaragua and Costa Rica), Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
More of graffiti artist Gualicho’s work can be seen here
More of graffiti artist Jaz’s work can be seen here
More of graffiti artist Chu’s work can be seen here
More of graffiti artist mart’s work can be seen here
Artist tec’s website is here
Guido, the server from Cocina Sunae’s work can be seen here