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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Bogotá’s street artists. But for now, here are a few more of our favorite pics from the Graffiti Tour.