Arriving into Bogota, Colombia it is impossible not to notice the amount of graffiti that occupies the walls of the city. We were told prior about the street art phenomenon but we never expected to see as much of it. Not knowing anything about the art, the history, the background or the purpose, we decided to head out on the Bogota Graffiti Tour. The tour is a free tour, similar to that of the free walking tours that take over Europe. This particular tour has been going on for 4 years now and is run by street artists and people directly involved in the Bogota urban art scene.
Much different to other countries in the world, street art in Bogota is prohibited but not illegal. It sounds similar to the rules of weed in Amsterdam. This means you cannot get a legal record or go to jail for doing graffiti but occasionally you can be subjected to a fine, however it is often paid as a bribe to police.
Art by Pez
Business owners in La Candelaria often commission graffiti artists to turn their walls into murals, which tends to protect them from the ugly scribblings (tags) of artists, or the teenage gangs that often roam the streets. The designs have become more and more complex via stencils, spray paint, stickers and pasted posters. Some graffiti artists focus on Colombia’s social and political struggles.
One of the main sources of inspiration for a lot of these artworks is the decades-long armed conflict between the government, paramilitary squads and left-wing guerrilla groups. This has left at least 50,000 dead and forced more than 4 million people to flee their homes. We noticed a lot of artworks around the city resembling these themes (as seen below).
Art by D J LU (above)
What changed Graffiti in Bogota
Diego Felipe Becerra was a 16 year old boy who was creating his signature image of Felix the Cat on the walls of an underpass late one evening, police approached him and he got scared, so he dropped the paint and ran. Unfortunately, the police on duty shot him directly in the back and killed him. The police officers denied shooting the teenager by fabricating a story, planting evidence against the teenager and went as far as paying witnesses to back their story. After court, the police officer was only suspended. This of course caused complete uproar in the street art community and it brought much media attention which meant the policeman’s story was re-evaluated and later he was found to be guilty. That man now spends 30-40 years in jail. Because of this most taggers & artists complete their work by day as they find this safer than the evening.
Secondly, Justin Bieber came to town for one of his concerts and was escorted by his security and the metropolitan police to a site in Bogota to leave his own mark on the walls. However, considering that a fellow street artist had just been murdered for doing such an act, yet Bieber was was being escorted by police to do the same thing, you can only imagine the anger amongst the street art community. Needless to say the graffiti was removed and it changed the eyes of street art amongst the authorities in Bogota. A very interesting story of the events can be read here.
During the walking tour we covered just a small portion of the artwork in and around La Candelaria but we were also able to see many different artworks on the outskirts of Bogota during the Bogota Bike Tours. We rode around the different districts of Bogota, sampling local foods & coffee and most importantly and interestingly watched the local sport of Bogota- Tejo. A very interesting game played by many locals. Who would have thought that throwing a weighed led towards a board made of clay with the attempt to hit the triangular pieces on the board filled with explosives would be such fun? Ah the differences between cultures! It was so loud and the beer consumption from the locals was outrageous. A real unique experience.
The street art in Bogota definitely tells a story and is well worth the time to learn about the background of the art. The pics we have showcased below were some of our favorites, from the hundreds we saw.
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