Art outside the museum: Bogotá’s Graffiti Tour

bogota graffiti tour

If you know me, you know I studied art history and given the choice my first stop when visiting somewhere new would be an art museum. While Bogotá has several great museums, the Bogotá Graffiti Tour is a little something different that I think is a must see for any visitor (or person who spends most of their time in the northern parts of the city!).

As you head southward you’ll start to see brightly colored murals which serve as the backdrop for the tour. Along with our friend David, Cody and I spent a couple of hours one morning wandering through some previously unexplored parts of La Candelaria and learning about Bogotá’s amazing community of street artists and some of their best-known works.

Christian (one of the tour leaders) does a great job of explaining why street art deserves our attention. Before this tour, I hadn’t given much thought to how much talent these artists have. First of all, spray paint is a completely unforgiving medium—there is no scraping a canvas or erasing. And it’s complex, because how hard you press the nozzle, how close you hold the can to the wall and the speed of your movements all impact the density of pigment, thickness of stroke and definition of line. Chiaroscuro, perspective, and proportion are all evident in the pieces we saw on the tour. Not only that, but there are many different mediums used such as sculpted pieces, paste-ups (printed and mass-produced stickers) and stencils.

This tour also made me realize that even today there are lingering ‘hierarchies’ within the art world. I mean, have you ever heard a whisper of ‘that’s not art’ in a contemporary art museum? Exclusivity encourages veneration, so I can understand how exhibition in public spaces—not to mention the everyday nature of their medium—seems to work against these artists. The side of a shop doesn’t provide the same ‘pedestal’ as paying to enter a building and see what someone else has deemed worthy of displaying.

However, the unique outdoor venue of street art also provides one of its most amazing attributes: it’s not static. What was there yesterday may suddenly disappear since murals may be up only a few months before a space is usurped by another artist, giving a kind of insistent, transitory feeling to a work.

I loved seeing how Bogotá has taken what others consider an eyesore or made illegal and changed it into something positive. Street art is such an accepted part of the landscape that some building owners will commission a work because it discourages other folks from taking over the space with tags. Not only that, but these artists aren’t afraid to grapple with controversial issues—another reason I think this tour is a worthwhile stop for those visiting Bogotá. The casual visitor will most likely not talk politics or hear someone’s honest feelings regarding their country’s past. However, there is no limiting or censoring this subject matter and it was a welcomed opportunity to see a variety of social commentary.

Keep scrolling for a few of our favorites from the tour.

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This collaborative mural was my favorite spot on the tour because of the graphic mix of color and incorporation of the cool art deco sculpture that was already a part of the building.
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Our guide explained how this mural of an indigenous woman is a subtle reminder of the exploitation and displacement suffered by these groups.
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Guache mixes ancient and Latin American imagery with contemporary graffiti techniques.
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Even stenciled pieces are complex and time-consuming–each negative space is cut by hand and individual stencils can only be used a couple of times.  Dj Lu (the artist above) is known for clever amalgams like this pineapple-grenade (which I read was a criticism of United Fruit) or mosquitos with machine gun wings.
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Much of the work by Stinkfish is centered on photographs taken by the artist himself (sometimes his subjects aren’t even aware they’re being photographed). The photos are used to create a stencil and are finished by hand.

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Check out the Bogotá Graffiti Tour website here.  Tours are held each day, rain or shine, at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Groups meet in the Plaza de Periodistas, under the statue of Simón Bolívar. Recommended donation of 25.000-30.000COP per person.

4 thoughts on “Art outside the museum: Bogotá’s Graffiti Tour

  1. We loved that tour too – was the second best thing we loved about bogota – the first being you guys!! Our fav were the US war commentary images (like the pineapple grenade) – the massive mirage of about 8 paintings at the end of the tour blew our minds! Wishing we could come back and do it all again with you guys! xx

    1. You are so sweet Carly and you guys are always welcome should you be in the neighborhood :-) I agree that the mural at the end was amazing! Christian was a fantastic guide!

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