I got a lot of looks when I told last winter (2017) what my next destination was going to be. Colombia is a pretty dangerous country, right? These comments did not scare me at all, because I always do my own research. Things are never as black and white (safe and unsafe) as people often see it. If you look at the travel advice of Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (June 2018), you will see that there are no green safe zones in Colombia. That would mean that Colombia is dangerous, right? Well, not really. On the same map you also see also a lot of yellow-colored areas, which are areas with possible safety risks, but avoidable as long as you stick to the main tourist routes. In these yellow areas you will find most tourist attractions. As long as you stick to the tourist cities (Bogotá, Eje Cafetero, Medellin & Cartagena), you will most probably be fine. To compare: the whole of Thailand is yellow-colored and no one asks any questions about that.
Enough about safety. In February 2018 I traveled to Colombia with my boyfriend, after we made a stopover in Miami. Our first stop was Bogotá. And what do you do on a first day in the Colombian capital? You join the street art tour through La Candelaria neighborhood. Bogotá exceeds when it comes to street art and the works tell a lot about the history and social topics of the city. I joined the street art tour supervised by tour guide Anna of Bogota Graffiti Tour. This tour is a free tour and it departs twice a day from Parque de Los Periodistas. Though you do not have to pay anything to join, the guides do appreciate it if you tip them at the end. As a guideline Bogota Graffiti Tour appreciates tips between 5- 8 euros. A small warning: this tour is very popular, so expect to walk around with a big group. Our group consisted of 20 people and that is no exception.
Why is there so much street art in Bogota?
From a shooting to a street art revolution
Just like every capital there was always street art and graffiti to be seen in Bogota, but this massively expanded in 2011. In that year the 16-year old artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot dead by the police, while he was working on one of his signature pieces. The police claimed that Diego was an armed criminal and the police had to defend itself. No one believed this. Within a couple of days the street were filled with protestors. Killing someone because he was creating street art was not acceptable. The city council decided to issue a decree to promote street art as a legitimate art expression. Artists were allowed to create murals on pre-selected walls, but also on other walls street art and graffiti was quickly expanding. Finally artists could work in broad day light instead of during the night which only improved the quality of the works.
The Bieber incident
The story continues. In 2013 Justin Bieder visited Bogotá. After his concert Bieber sprayed a maple leaf on a wall, while he was with a police escort. The police was notorious for their violent attitude against street art artists. As a reaction to the mural of Bieber, artists from all over Colombia organized a street art marathon. Not only Bogotá participated, but also artists from Medellin and Cali joined. Within 24 hours 700 works were created. The message of the marathon: artists demanded the same respect from the police as Bieber received.
Prohibited but not illegal
What is the current state of street art in Colombia? Officially street art is prohibited. If you get caught creating street art or graffiti, you will mostly likely get a fine. But if you have the permission of the property owner and you stay away from government property, then you are good to go. In La Candelaria I noticed that a lot of shops and houses were colorfully painted with street art. Our guide told us that owners often see street art as a way to avoid pollution and tagging. There is an unwritten code among artists that you simply do not paint or spray over each other’s works. Once you have a mural on the wall of your shop, it will stay there. Moreover, it is way nicer to look at a colorful wall than a boring brick wall.
When writing this article it was difficult for me to select only a few photos, because there is so much to see and I liked almost all the works. If you pay attention to the works, you will notice a couple of themes. First of all, there is the indigenous communities theme. An example of this is the colorful portrait of the Cuna woman, created by Carlos Trilleras. You will actually see a lot of women shown in the works around La Candelaria. Furthermore, social issues are also often used for street art. Corruption, poverty and violence. An example of this is the black, white and red work of the collective DJ LU, Toxicomano and Gauche. If you look closely, you will see pineapples that look quite similar to grenades. This refers to the many landmines that are located in fertile soil. Whatever the theme maybe, almost all works have one thing in common: the colors pop!
Would you visit Bogotá?