How Colombia's raw fusion is resulting in some of Latin America's most blinding graff crews
The Colombian capital’s streets are some of the most heavily bombed by the hands of graf writers in Latin America. Walk in any district of the heaving streets of Bogotá and every surface is covered: the local crews are relentless – even acrobatic – with their reaches.
If the city is an indication of what is to come in the country, with its fast-growing economy and increasing international presence, then it will soon be as important as Brazil as a huge exponent of public art. “There's more bombers, styles have changed, people are pushing hard on creativity and art... more people from outside are coming... it’s probably going to be a hot spot” suggests Saga Uno, a Bogotá based graf writer and graphic designer. According to Jose Sarralde, Editor-in-chief of Cartel Urbano, the city’s main publication on street culture, “what makes graffiti special in Bogotá is that it reflects a mix between the influences coming from abroad and our own concerns: Bogotá has its own aesthetic. Artists and graf writers are becoming world citizens - a fact that has familiarized them with different movements and spread their own. Personally I really like the graphic element of the scene that shows our indigenous origins.”
International events are just beginning bringing out artists to Colombia to paint. In October, Jorge Nieto and J Reeve, based in London, helped coordinate the first ever “taller” on graffiti in the country, in association with Cartel Urbano and partners in Colombia, workshop and conference - attracting more than 2,000 applications to attend from all over the country, a defining moment in the shape of the scene. Artists from the UK, INSA and Mysterious Al spoke at the event.
"Writing is an outlet…to find happiness in creating and in giving a fuck about the world that doesn’t like us.”
But the scene is still fresh: graffiti is still predominantly done for other writers, not the public, meaning that hand-styles and throw-ups are sovereign. Most are reminiscent of classic styles from the UK and USA halcyon days of the 90s, such as VACS or crisp, bold, letters, painted with rollers rather than spray – Crudo and Cups Uno are the kings at this, with Crudo belonging to the 30-strong Animal Poder Collectivo (APC) crew, one of Bogotá’s most prolific collectives. Others to look out for in this direction are Skore999, Bombas, Cecs and MOTs cru.
Graf culture in Bogotá has only really emerged in the last decade or so – and a lot of the graffiti still happens during the day, not in the sequestered veils of night. “What is happening in Bogotá is that there is a huge culture around Hip Hop, and people from all kind of neighborhoods are taking over the city to express in some way that not only mainstream culture is in the city. In the last two years a law was created to allow some places to be painted, and that has help to the artist and writers to improve their quality and develop the scene, coming from outside.”
“It is so easy to paint here,” comments Kometo, one of APC’s younger members “Once the cops stopped us while we were hitting a roof spot. I had to pay (7 quid) to avoid being taken in. But most of the time, they don’t even care.”
But painting on the streets of the Colombian metropolis is not as risk-free as it might seem – only in 2011 was a young writer, Tripido, shot dead by Bogotan police while painting in the northern district of Pontevedra . It might be receiving some support from the local government, but the fun of painting on the streets belies the deeper-rooted struggles of a city that was plagued until recently by the formidable power of the drug cartels – buffing graf hardly seems a priority – but it is still an expression for many of unrest, rebellion, or frustration. Saga “art has always been important to me. Writing is an outlet… to find happiness in creating and in giving a fuck about the world that doesn’t like us.”