Bogota

Bogota’s booming graffiti culture

posted by Adriaan Alsema
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Bogota Graffiti

Graffiti has traditionally served as a mode of expression against the establishment and as a way for artists to communicate with a wide audience, but Bogota is exploding internationally as here graffiti is not illegal and artists can freely expand their styles.

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Colombia’s capital is not only becoming increasingly recognized as a canvas for some of the toughest, pointed social commentary street art in the world, but also for its free range of artistic styles. The concrete blandness of the capital’s cityscape demands color, and an equally grey area in the law means that it is not illegal. It is prohibited to paint on government buildings, but otherwise, the city is basically a blank canvas.

While an artist in Europe or the U.S. can gain a criminal record, fine, or even jail for their work, here in Bogota street art is encouraged. “Save for a bribe here and there,” says Crisp, an Australian street artist currently based in Bogota, who explains that “rather than have their building tagged or bombed (hurriedly lettered or stenciled), owners often choose to have a mural painted, which is more likely to be respected by other graffiti artists and not defaced.” Crisp believes in local communities reclaiming the street aesthetic as their own.

Bogota is just beginning to gain international recognition as it emerges from its dark days and begins to attract foreign artists such as PEZ from Barcelona who paints distinctive fisheye characters. Meanwhile, talented Colombian artists are being invited to travel overseas. Stinkfish and Toxicamo are among the most well known with recent exhibitions in Berlin, New York, and London to name a few.

The wide variety of art styles can be seen all over the city. From south to north,  west to east, In the poorest barrios or the commercial centers it is not unusual to spot a crew of grafiteros at work with paint cans open on the sidewalk. Relatively speaking, spray paint is more expensive in Colombia than in Europe, and this forces Colombian artists to combine use of the paint with other materials to make it last longer, and has the side effect of producing innovative graffiti designs which are not seen in Europe and elsewhere. The bogotano artists are fresh and breathe a new vitality onto the international scene.

Prominent Bogota grafiteros

  • RODEZ, NOMADA & MALEGRIA

    A father and two sons crew who work together. Father “Rodez” is a professor of art design at University National – Colombia’s most important public university with a wealth of intelligent minds, a breeding ground for innovative thought, and leftist ideas, the campus walls display radical graffiti which is often politically charged and always changing.

  • ZUDOCO

    An artist who often draws reference to paramilitary and guerilla teenage conscripts in hard presed rural communities, his work is stencil based and depicts young people with bandanas over their faces.

  • TOXICOMANO

    One of the most well known groups of Colombian grafitero who extensively rebel against capitalism and state control in their punk inspired stencil styles. Pina grenadas represent Western Fruit Export interests and the armed confrontations they demand in Colombia. With a background in architecture, a Toxicomano member is also a Professor at University National.

  • DJLU

    Has been painting the streets of Bogota for over 10 years now. The Toximano member’s detailed and highly social/political stencils vary from small simple but powerful ‘bombing’ pictograms to massive complex multilayered murals. He is also a photographer so uses most of his own images of people to create his unique stencils.

  • BASTARDILLA

    A female artist who draws on poverty, feminism, and the effects of violence. Often her work is characterized by characters lying down in intimacy on the street or with long hair wrapped around their faces or bodies. Bogota is at the forefront of world female graffiti artists with a large number of contributors to the city’s color being young women.

  • GRIS ONE

    Delving further into the surreal, Gris One paints very surreal almost dali-esque works with free style spray painting. He is part of the biggest crew in Colombia “Animal Poder Crew” aka APC, and also paints for “Vertigo Graffiti” and “Ink” crews.

  • GUACHE

    Currently working in Argentina, usually uses a mix of spray can and roller painting to create very vibrant and indigenous influenced pieces. He has done a lot of collaborations with Toxicomano, DjLu and Lesivo. They published a book of their work this year. Currently working in Argentina, Guache and many others illustrate a move away from the political graffiti common in the past and prefer to showcase their skills rather than the cause.

Author Simon Phillips is the owner of travel blog Elusiveworld. Crisp organizes graffiti tours in Bogota.

About the author

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Adriaan Alsema is the founder and editor-in-chief of Colombia Reports. Born and raised a Dutchman, Adriaan has been living in Colombia since 2008.

User Name: Adriaan Alsema

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