Argentina’s modern history and current political situation, along with a lax police attitude towards graffiti, have seen street art proliferate in recent years
Every culture has its genius. Porteños – natives of Buenos Aires natives – have several, among them a gift for passionate friendship, the rituals of tango and, in the 21st century, a burgeoning culture of street art.
In the patrician Recoleta neighbourhood, leftist activists leave militant messages to the powers that be. In bohemian San Telmo, artists turn entire buildings into florid landscape. In stylish Palermo Viejo, graffiti morphs into sophisticated branding. And in up and coming Vila Crespo, a single wall can become a sea of conflicting styles, as artists battle it out for both political and aesthetic supremacy.
This rich and sprawling hive of creativity is fuelled by a perfect storm of apparently contrary forces. On one hand, the city has a long history of political repression that, especially in the 1970s and ’80s, made a mask and a can of spray paint a potent political weapon. Even today, on-going political polarisation between right and left keeps political motivations high. At the same time, the government – at least in recent decades – has adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward street art, with arrests and prosecutions very rare.
In addition, Argentina’s strong educational system has trained legions of skilled, often brilliant painters. Yet economic disruptions, in particular the massive meltdown that began in 2001, left artists without clients, without prospects, but fired with energy and talent.
Given all these factors, it seems inevitable that street artists have colonised so many of the city’s blank walls. Nor is it a surprise that you can find many of Argentina’s hottest young talents at work outdoors.
And now, a sophisticated arts organisation called Graffitimundo offers an array of geographic and thematic tours of city’s street art. In fact, it has become such an integral part of the Porteño art scene that Graffitimundo even gives workshops if you want to try a little tagging yourself.
By Robert Landon
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on page 64-65.