It might seem unlikely, but Colombia is one of the most important cities in the world when it comes to this suburban culture, the art of graffiti. And much like most of the Colombian recent history, it didn’t happen without violence and death. On the 19th August 2011, a young teenager, Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed by the police when they caught him painting Felix the Cat on an underpass.
The story itself maybe wouldn’t attract so much attention if it wasn’t discovered that the police was lying about the reasons behind the shooting. Claiming that the boy was on the run after he had allegedly robbed a bus, which in turn caused mass protests and change in the law, ultimately making graffiti legal and regulated.
Even though much of the regulations is left to the interpretation of the judges, graffiti is effectively legal today, and this is a huge deal for thousands of artists living in this city. Bogotá is home to some of the most beautiful graffiti because of this reason exactly: artists don’t have to fear the police anymore, and can dedicate enough time for details on their murals and paint in the middle of the day without the fear of being detained.
This is the reason why I chose to start my journey here.
When I walked around Bogotá, I noticed that the only way to keep your walls clean and neat is by having a mural painted on it, before the wall would be inevitably tagged.
What I found interesting is the fact that this art mostly has political motifs, including topics such as women’s rights, “war on drugs”, paintings of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, climate change, etc.
Maybe the most famous example of graffiti art that I saw was done by an artist called DJ Lu, and it shows a pineapple grenade, as a comment on how once fruit-rich Colombian land is now filled with landmines and danger.
Roaming around Bogotá, observing the process of art being created in real time is something you don’t get to see every day. It felt as if the art belonged to the public. I mashed with some artists, spent time with them and shared a meal or a coffee while they were taking a break.
There was a sense of distrust and worry in the air ever since Enrique Peñalosa became the mayor: he didn’t like street art at all. But something all artists knew is if the politicians tried to stop them, it would only fuel their energy to create more art.
After all, the best art is created in the worst of times.