Getting the Lowdown on Bogota’s Graffiti Culture

When we reached the end of the tour, I was already thoroughly impressed. And then we rounded the corner to discover four massive graffiti murals that just sung of revolution, of angst-y political statement and dissatisfaction. They were commissioned pieces from the some of the top artists around Bogota, and by that time, I’d seen all the best: stinkfish, Bastardilla, DJLU, Pez, Rodez, Lik Mi and more. But these last pieces really were showstoppers.

cover photoTogether, they stretched for a solid city block. They addressed familiar issues like the mistreatment of indigenous people, the displacement of homeless, the greed of capitalism, the violence in Colombia, and the corruption of politicians. — to name but a few. The pictures were high on technique, professionally distinct, and gut-wrenching to behold. We lingered and stared as our guide—who’d skateboarded up to our meeting point—explained all the secret ticks, signatures and motivations of the different artists.

Hey, before I went on this tour, I dug a good piece of graffiti. But here, I learned to appreciate the depth of street art culture, a movement that Bogota is learning to embrace fully.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • I don’t know about you, but I’ve long tired of visiting museums everywhere I go. This is something different, exciting, and cutting edge. This is local artwork in the truest sense of the world. You’ll leave knowing something about Bogota, Colombia and street art.
  • We travel for cultural experiences, and this is one on more than one level. The graffiti culture breaks borders, with artists coming in from around the world to paint in Bogota, and the local artists basically provide an honest blueprint of how the active youth of Colombia are thinking.
  • This tour is great for able-bodied travelers (there’s a lot of walking) and particularly those interested in political topics, subcultures, and underground art movements. Or, it just a cool way to see bits of the city you might otherwise not.

La Candelaria Is the Place to Be

Street Art Shop with a Graffiti Front

Street Art Shop with a Graffiti Front

If you are going to Bogota and looking for the hippest place in town, there is but one destination, and that is La Candelaria. La Candelaria is the historic part of the city, where the buildings get seriously colonial and have titles. There are museum of the military, gold and art variety, and there are baroque cathedrals sternly overlooking massive squares filled with pigeons, venders and the occasional llama. There are trendy restaurants, microbreweries and cafes galore. But there is something deeper and cooler going on.

One of My Favorites, from Just Around the Corner (by Rodez)

One of My Favorites, from Just Around the Corner (by Rodez)

La Candelaria may be old, but it’s lively and young. It’s at the epicenter of a few universities and, thus, filled with the freshness, activism, and kookiness that comes with such environments. The plazas fill with street performers, library carts and flat-out loiterers. It is the part of town at just the right time—the Greenwich Village of New York, Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco in the 1960s—that everybody who’s anybody is gravitating towards.

Getting Into the Graffiti Scene

Some really interesting things are happening with graffiti in the city, and particularly in La Candelaria. In the past, as is the case nearly everywhere, graffiti artists were doing their work on the fly and/or under the cloak of night, but Bogota has seen things change in recent years. Top artists now actually get commissioned to paint the walls of shops and hostels in the area, and on some occasions, police are brought in as protection for the artist. Even the oldest building in the city has commissioned graffiti on it. The result is improved work, with better attention to detail, and an influx of visiting artists from around the world.

The Front Wall of Casa Bella Vista (by Pez)

The Front Wall of Casa Bella Vista (by Pez)

About midway through the tour, I was very happy when we passed the hostel—Casa Bella Vista—I was staying in, a little family run joint with only a few rooms and a lot of personality. The front wall of the hostel had been commissioned and painted by one of my favorite artists—Pez—from the tour. Pez’s work was really simple, two-dimensional cartoonish figures with toothy smiles and funky color combinations. It gave me a funny sense of pride that made me feel like a piece of the movement. I was sleeping there that night.

Practicalities

  • Find street performers in mass, and the hippest part of the hippest part of town, which is also the oldest part of the oldest part: Plaza del Chorro de Quevedo. Great people watching in general.
  • Be careful getting to La Candelaria as there are actually two in Bogota. You want the old one, the touristed one, the one near Monseratte Hill.
  • Interestingly, you likely will not see any of the pieces from this article as they are often replaced within a year of being produced. But, there should be some new, stirring stuff.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Ramirez says

    Loved the article! I just spent 3 weeks in Bogota with my husband (a native of the city), and La Candelaria was one of my favorite places. I actually took quite a few pictures of some of the more interesting pieces I saw. Not knowledgeable about the artists themselves, but I could appreciate art when I saw it!

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