"Graffitimundo: White Walls Say Nothing", by Richelle Jurasek, Occidental College and Julie Margolies, Tufts University
When you think of Buenos Aires, most likely images of tango dancers, famous historical monuments, and world renowned museums come to mind. Buenos Aires is truly a cultural hub. However, we had an amazing cultural experience simple by taking a very off-the-beaten-path walk around the streets of this city. Through word-of-mouth, we had heard about a street art walking tour called graffitimundo, and we decided to check it out.
graffitmundo is a nonprofit organization that was started by two British travelers who were struck by the strong presence of graffiti street art in the city. They started working with local artists in 2009 with the hope of expanding the public consciousness of this dynamic and usually unappreciated art form. The organization runs tours almost every day during the week to bring people in direct contact with art and the local artists. Also, graffimundo serves as a liaison between the artists and potential clients looking to purchase framed pieces or commission works to beautify the exteriors of their homes and businesses.
Street art in Argentina is definitely unique. We learned from our extremely knowledgeable and well-traveled tour guide that this art form exploded in the past few decades as a response to various political and economic struggles that the country has experienced. While graffiti is still illegal in Argentina, as it is in the U.S., there is a much higher tolerance and appreciation for it here, as this art form is a fairly accepted method of artistic and political expression. While graffiti was originally a tool of the masses, the government has also adopted this strategy and will often higher artists to paint the streets with propaganda supporting their particular political party or candidate.
Our super cool tour guide in front of a piece called “Nestornauta,” which depicts the face of the late president Nestor Kirchner in the body of El Eternauta, a famous political cartoon that represents that resistance against the dictatorships that controlled Argentina in the late 20th century.
We were both struck by the collaborative nature of a lot of the works we saw. Rather than compete, the graffiti artists combine their unique styles to create monumental muralistic pieces, such as the two below:
Not only do both of these works combine different aesthetics, but the various artists also use distinctive techniques and mediums to establish their own styles. Before this tour, both of us assumed that most street art was created by uncomissioned “taggers” who use traditional cans of spray paint. Most graffiti art that we had seen in the U.S. consisted of one-dimensional block letters painted in one or two colors. This technique of “tagging” exists in Argentina as well, but many people commission street artists to create larger and more elaborate pieces to prevent and cover-up such tags. The works that we saw in Buenos Aires were varied in terms of mediums; some of the artists used a combination of spray and acrylic paint, while one artist in particular, whose piece is in the photo below, chose to mix his paints with dirt so that they appear more like watercolors and incorporate the local surroundings.
This piece was painted by an artist known as Jaz during a graffiti art festival in the city. The two bulls represent two local boys who died in a tragic conflict with the police.
One aspect that our tour guide constantly highlighted is the dynamic nature of the graffiti art in Buenos Aires. Depending on the size, location, and level of recognition, a piece might stick around for a few short weeks to many months or even years. Our tour guide took us to see one of her favorite pieces and was saddened to find that within the past few days, other artists had started to overtake the wall with their own pieces. “It had a good run,” as she said; this type of change is typical of the street art world.
We learned so much from this experience, and now we find ourselves pointing out to others the amazing pieces of art that we pass on the daily, recognizing the artists and discovering that art exists in our neighborhoods in places that we had never realized. The more well-known tourist attractions usually take precedence in anyone’s stay in Buenos Aires; however, for us, this non-traditional walking tour is really a must. Whatever country you are reading this from, you can get a taste of the graffiti art culture by checking out this link to the trailer for graffimundo’s documentary called “White Walls Say Nothing.” Look for its release later this year.
Ciao, from your favorite street art aficionadas!