Painting the town red

As the early afternoon Andean rainfall subsides, a dense mist rises through the cobbled streets of La Candelaria; Bogota’s historic quarter. With the faint rumble of thunder, overcast skies and patter of water droplets shedding from the Colombian capital’s colonial architecture, a distinct sense of revolution flourishes in the air.

Remnants from internal conflict born in La Violencia; the country’s ten-year civil war during the 1950s, continue to be felt today. An ongoing rift between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups and left wing guerillas such as FARC and ELN has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives since 1958[i].

While the armed conflict, drug and crime syndicates have largely quieted today; their legacy means that Colombia now has the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons, that is, behind Syria[ii]. Topics of income disparity, education and industrial policy have now spilled onto Colombian streets. With plenty canntoxicomonoed up, some Colombians are finding a new revolutionary voice.

When the Bogotano haze parts, like a stage curtain, it unveils large murals of vibrant, colorful and illuminating street art. With their illustrations unfolding at each junction of the capital’s mazy streets, like new pages of a book, their messages, like Colombia’s history, are deeply etched into the fabric of the South American city. The grafiteros want to tell the story; the spray-can has become their voice.

La calle es tu calle, ‘the street is your street’ reads one stenciled piece. From the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist graphics of the art collective, Toxicomano to the feminist and poverty visuals of Bastadilla, Bogotanos are rebranding the streets with their artistic messages. In February 2013 Bogota’s mayor promoted graffiti as a form of cultural expression, and with the city slowly becoming a hotbed for artistic voice, some authorities are even hiring grafiteros to spray-paint their own buildings.

Upon one Bogotano scaffolding wall, a large black and white fresco of an indigenous Choco region woman dragging a rich man and his material belongings comes into view. Nearby, DJ Lu’s stencil art portrays pinas granadas, ‘pineapple grenades’, alongside an image of a solider clenching grenade balloons. The multidimensionality and detail of the images, in their message and art form, has spurred grenadescuriosity. Graffiti tours offering up interpretation are now commonplace.

Toxicomano’s own front against ignorance and anti-mass media rhetoric strikes through the afternoon mist now rising into Bogota’s enveloping verdant hillsides. Their imaginary film promotions are stenciled throughout the city. One yellow highlighted title translates to, ‘Displacement: A film that should not be seen, let alone lived’, and nearby the phrase La vida real supera la fiction, ‘real life exceeds fiction’, is printed.

Bogotanos are coming to terms with their realities. Where social change still begets violence across the globe, the message of non-violent protest, and struggle for change, may find a new vehicle in the creativity and artistic penchant of humanity.

In the evening damp the doughy scent of sizzling Arepas, a Colombian flatbread, lingers in downtown Bogota. As Bogotanos refuel, spray-canisters reload. With the red-blood spill of history spread across the palette, tomorrow the grafiteros will attempt to recolor and redefine their very own revolution.

[i] Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory

[ii] Internal Monitoring Centre Global Overview report 2014

Related Material:

We need a creativity revolution – RSA, Adam Lent

The Wisdom of Tyler Durden – Tej Parikh

Bogota’s booming graffiti culture – Colombia Reports

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