Graffiti Talks in Buenos Aires

by ruthsmason

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So, a group of artists is enjoying grilled meat and wine in the back patio and it gets pretty late. One says, “You know, your wall is a nice wall, but it needs painting”. So, three guys gather brushes and paint and together, mingling styles and inserting things here and there, paint the wall out front on the street. A cactus guy is the familiar figure for one, another always paints in only two colors. This is graffiti in Buenos Aires–an art form that starts with tags and love notes but as artists gain respect becomes political, personal and public all at the same time. I loved this tour! If you go to Buenos Aires, please contact ‘graffitimundo’ and ask for Cecilia to be your guide. You get a look into Argentina’s history and art scene, and a taste of the moment too. image Here is Cecilia explaining how the figure of an astronaut appeared when Argentina was coming out of the crisis of the Dirty War. The image was not an alien invader but a savior. It was a popular cartoon character [Argentines love cartoons–the more satire and irony the better] that appeared as a stencil on walls all over the city. Later the President of the country asked permission of the artist for his face to be inserted as he was seen as a savior of sorts, and so it was stenciled in…until he fell out of favor and people enjoyed whiting it out…such are the stories.
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This is the wall of a very exclusive and upscale restaurant in Buenos Aires. The owner asked a graffiti artist to decorate it for him, and as the artist worked the owner insisted that he keep adding more and more images–and more–. The artist was not happy with the result, but the owner was. Wall art is actually invited and improves property value in Buenos Aires. So, yes, graffiti is not only legal and artists work in broad daylight and take their time, it is also welcomed. We happened on this fairly new artist as we walked around.
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In all we got to recognize the work of about four artists: Jaz, Nerf, Gaulicho, and pum pum. So, to back up a little, there are tags which are just names but not attached to gangs or to violence or territory. Just names, maybe a love note, or a comment like ‘la musica no mata’, ‘music doesn’t kill’.
Then there are stencils with messages or just images. There are line drawings, and now using latex and rollers there are murals in the best Latin American tradition. Here’s one called ‘housewives revenge’
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This is the signature look of Gaulicho. image
The city of Buenos Aires also invited graffiti artists from abroad to paint on some public spaces. One painted this gaucho/Argentine cowboy with a can of spray paint in his hand.
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One of my favorite walls of the morning was this image of the white kerchiefs worn by the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo”–the mothers who marched in protest of their disappeared children during the Dirty War of the 1980’s. [they still gather in the Plaza de Mayo on Thursday afternoons to protest and remember] These floating head scarves look down on a children’s playground to protect them…image There are layers of paint in some places that evoke layers of protests and also of hope. We met three of the artists in their warehouse workshop since now they actually also paint on canvas and have exhibits in Europe as well as Latin America.
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The tradition of painting on walls is well established. There is ordinary graffiti too. But, in Buenos Aires the fact is an artist, perhaps gaining some status among his/her peers, sometimes rings the bell of a house and says, “You have a particularly lovely wall. May I paint it?” and the owner says “Of course, that would be great. Do you need help with materials?” image
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So, I learned a lot about street art and its evolution in Buenos Aires. It struck me as we ended the tour that in cultures where homes are behind walls, the walls are public and in a way invite comment. In cities where people are unhappy with the government, walls call out! Cecilia and the group that is Graffitimundo are writing a book. It will be titled “White Walls Say Nothing”–I hope I can find a copy.