Bogota Mural, Street Art of Bogota
This dazzling mural was painted with a special coating that repels taggers’ spray paint

Can street art and historic preservation coexist?

That’s the million-dollar question that citizens and leaders of Bogotá are grappling with. On the Bogotá Graffiti Tour (a MUST if you’re headed there) we learned just how complicated this question is. One thing for sure: the street art of Bogotá blew us away!

We loved our visit to Bogotá, but it offers a decidedly different experience than Medellin, our favorite Colombian destination (so far). As Colombia’s sprawling capital city, Bogotá has well over twice the population of Medellin, and any comparisons have to be tempered with that big data point. But whereas Medellin has created community, fought poverty, and overcome its violent past by embracing public art and transportation (it’s sometimes called the Medellin Miracle, and we blogged about it here), Bogotá is struggling with both. 

Mural spelling out Bogota, Street Art of Bogota
So much going on in this, painted by one of Bogotá’s graffiti collectives. I love the birds on the wire and the skyline in the back.

From the Graffiti Tour, we learned that La Candelaria, the Bogota historic district, is also a hotbed of some of the city’s most stunning street art.

But there’s a subtle and often fuzzy line between street artists, many of whom are looking to make a statement and engage the public, and taggers, who care more about getting respect from fellow graffiti artists. Of course these are generalizations. Plenty of street artists are downright revolutionary, while many of the taggers are well-known and have created some beautiful and compelling art. Time for a big disclaimer: all of this is all our perspective, based on info we got from the tour. The world of street art and graffiti is rich and complex, with lots of nuance.

Large mural with lots of cats, Bogota Street Art
A feline-themed wall, painted by another collective. The black cat has a cool bonus when viewed from across the street – even the stop sign and lamp post blend in. Do you see it?

So, getting back to La Candelaria.

In its wisdom, the city of Bogotá is undergoing a major project to paint over (!) many of the beautiful murals that grace the sides of the historic buildings (some of the buildings date back to the early 16th century). In order to keep the district’s UNESCO World Heritage designation, the city is required to maintain the buildings in more or less their authentic, original condition. That means the street art must go, but (in predictably rebellious fashion) the taggers move in immediately to deface the walls after they’ve been whitewashed. It’s a vicious cycle: destroy stunning murals that have usually been left alone by the taggers out of respect, and then deal with the vandalized consequences.

Bogota Oldest House, Street Art of Bogota
This house, in Bogotá’s oldest neighborhood, dates back to the early 1500s and is connected to the city’s founding. Until the city whitewashed it recently, it was covered with brilliant murals; the Virgin Mary painting is all that’s left. This was in late December and the taggers had already moved in. I wonder what it looks like now?

True story: when Canadian pop star Justin Bieber (huge eye-roll here) swooped into Bogotá for a concert a few years ago, he insisted on going out in the dead of night and painting a mural on an unauthorized wall. Of course, being a huge star (albeit a deeply untalented street artist), he had a police escort. The taggers were so incensed that they immediately defaced his mural hours after he and his entourage cleared out. But apparently there was an upside: the incident helped gain the street artists some legitimacy. Here’s an interesting article about the whole thing, and here’s another one.

There’s so much more to be said about the rich, colorful, and endlessly preoccupying story of the street art of Bogota.

But for now, here are a few more of our favorite pics from the Graffiti Tour.

DJ Lu Mural 1
A mural by the collective Toxicomano, featuring lots of stencil work and political commentary.
DJ Lu mural 2
This is by artist DJ Lu, whose work often makes bold political statements around better conditions and greater equality for all citizens. Here he’s depicting the plight of Bogota’s street vendors, who are often subject to harassment. The pineapple/hand grenade motif is a much-copied DJ Lu motif.
Obleas vendor, Bogota
A little off-topic, but obleas are wonderful sweet treats that are available from street vendors all over town. This particular vendor got instant notoriety when Mick Jagger happened to visit her stand once!
Mural of Guna woman, street art of Bogota
A beautiful portrait of a Guna indigenous woman, painted by Carlos Trilleras
Guache mural, street art of Bogota
A mural by Guache, whose trademark is beautiful and fanciful depictions of indigenous people and birds. The figures around the door are by another famous artist.
Guache mural of indigenous man, street art of Bogota
Another stunning Guache mural
Hummingbird mural, Bogota
Love these pretty hummers. Sadly, they were slated to be painted over soon.
Luchador mural, street art of Bogota
This one of a Mexican luchador (wrestler) is by Kiptoe, an artist based in Los Angeles but whose work appears around the world. It was also scheduled for a paint-over when we were there. 🙁
Callejon Embudo mural
The work of several artists is captured here, all with distinct styles
Galatea shop, street art of Bogota
The owner of this clothing boutique not only provides a canvas for the street artists, but also employs disadvantaged women to create one-of-a-kind textiles
Grafitti Park Bogota
Bogotá street artists have gained more legitimacy lately. The city has created a park where the artists can work out in the open, and in daylight.
Jorge Eliécer Gaitán mural, street art of Bogota
This mural honors Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a populist hero who was assassinated in downtown Bogota in 1948.
Sant Just mural
These murals grace the building housing our favorite Bogotá restaurant, Sant Just. It’s a MUST for lunch or dinner.

What are your favorite cities for viewing street art? Tell us all about them!

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Colorful mural of indigenous man in Bogota, Colombia

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