What does street art and graffiti tell us about a city, its history and inhabitants? The answer can be “a lot”, it’s an interesting way of exploring the culture. And good street art makes exploring on foot even more visually interesting.
When I first arrived in Buenos Aires I did what I always do – I started walking around the neighbourhood. There was a lot of street art on the walls, but it was only when I did a walking tour with graffitimundo that I got an insight into what was inspiring and driving the street art movement, and how different it was to other parts of the world.
The first surprise was learning that graffiti developed much later in Argentina than in places like the US, although perhaps not so surprising since there was a military government and “the dirty war” for 7 years to 1983 (one of a number during the 20th century). During this period huge numbers of people disappeared for much lessor ‘crimes’ than graffiti. When graffiti did start emerging after military rule, the first participants didn’t have much access to information about graffiti in other countries, and so developed their own norms. There was no access to spray cans so graffiti in Buenos Aires still is mostly drawn and painted, not sprayed.
Street art was not illegal so there was no need to do it in the middle of the night, instead street artists would paint in broad daylight. They usually asked the owner of the wall for permission as well. The huge economic shocks at the start of the 1990s and again around 2001/02 had another surprisingly influence on the street art culture. With life literally so hard for the population, a number of artists started painting or stencilling cute, kitsch and funny art, rather than political/protest art, to cheer people up. This style is still present today, and will always bring a smile to my face.
After three hours of walking around dozens of key street art sites (there is also a cycling version which sounds fun too), it was cool to realise that I could start to recognise the distinctive style of individual artists, thanks to the descriptive abilities of the guide, and since then I have been able to look up my favourites on facebook and see what new work they have been up to. By its very nature, street art has a limited life span, so I would be keen do this again next time I visit Buenos Aires as I would love to see what new work is out there. And to end it perfectly, we finished up at Post Street Bar, Thames 1885, where the walls and the roof terrace are painted and stenciled by some of the best street artists, and there is a gallery if you are interested in buying their work. After all that walking is was a good place to sit and have a drink. (note: this is not a sponsored review, the author paid full price for the walking tour).