Most major cities in the world frown on graffiti. Authorities penalize taggers with jail time or hefty fines. Colombia’s capital city is taking a different approach—and the results have been colorful, to say the least.
The walls of Bogota are covered in intricate tags, primitive scrawls, and elaborate murals, making this city of 8 million one of the world’s trendiest showcases of modern street art.
Crisp, an Australian street artist who resettled in Bogota five years ago, says the city’s permissive attitude towards graffiti — taggers are only occasionally fined —allows artists to spend more time on their paintings, resulting in more thoughtful pieces than those found in other cities such as New York or London, where work is done hurriedly at night to avoid police.
“We mostly work during the day here, and we have time to focus on more long term projects,” Crisp said. “I’ve had people bring me cake and coffee while I work. You get a lot of support from the community here.”
Not all of the city’s walls are covered in fancy murals. Some Bogotanos complain their neighborhoods are covered with random scrawls that are an eyesore.
But Crisp says ugliness comes with the beauty when you allow the walls to be a canvas for all to paint. “Who decides what’s art?” he said, as he guided a group of foreign tourists down a street in Bogota’s historic La Candelaria district on a daily graffiti tour he organizes to supplement his income.
The street art Crisp highlights on his tour illustrates issues ranging from environmental concerns to the country’s brutal armed conflict. Other murals are simply meant to make people smile.
A mural by Spanish street artist, Pez. The Barcelona native has also resettled in Bogota.
Much of the street art in Bogota is simply decorative. Some business owners in La Candelaria even commission graffiti artists to turn their walls into murals, which tends to protect them from the ugly scribblings of lesser artists. “There’s a code of respect among grafiteros” Crisp said. “No one wants to start a graffiti war.”
Some graffiti artists focus on Colombia’s social and political struggles. One of the main sources of inspiration is the decades-long armed conflict between the government, paramilitary squads and left-wing guerrilla groups, that has left at least 50,000 dead and forced more than 4 million people to flee their homes.
A stencil by street artist DJ Lu, shows a soldier shooting hearts instead of bullets.
A mural in La Candelaria, talks about forced displacement, “a movie you don’t want to see, much less be a part of,” reads the drawing by local street artist, Toxicomano.
A drawing in La Candelaria dedicated to the indigenous people who have suffered from the war, by local grafitero Katze 3.
A mural outside a warehouse in Bogota ridicules the capitalist greed that fuels Colombia’s armed conflict, as different groups fight over natural resources. This one was made by Lesivo.
The drawing above, by street artist Praxis, focuses on the plight of homeless people; the bag over the man’s head represents how the homeless have been invisibilized.
Another stencil by DJ Lu, showing his take on oil investment in Colombia.
As peace talks advance, investment in the country’s oil and mining sector is booming. That has given rise to new concerns about how the country develops its natural resources, while maintaining its immense biodiversity.
The mural above depicts Colombian birds, including the condor. With around half of its territory covered by the Amazon and Orinoco basins, and another chunk covered by the Andes mountains, Colombia has some of the world’s richest bird and wildlife.
The Capybara or Chiguiro, is the world’s largest rodent and an emblematic species of Colombia’s eastern plains. Hundreds of them died from a drought last year caused, possibly, by oil exploration in Colombia’s Casanare region.
Indigenous people are the guardians of many of Colombia’s protected areas. Above, a portrait by Bogota street artist Guache, below, a mural of hummingbirds and hands, drawn by MAL Crew.
Toucans grace the shop’s lateral walls, also by Rodez.
One of the pioneers of the New York City’s graffiti scene in the 1960s was a Colombian immigrant who went by the name Mico. Now an old man, Mico still visits Bogota and has brought his style of graffiti with him.
Bogota also has plenty of random scrawling, tagged mostly by kids from impoverished neighborhoods who want to leave their mark on the city. It’s not as pretty as the murals painted by seasoned artists, but Crisp argues that this is an inevitable consequence of Bogota’s permissive attitude towards graffiti. “You can’t have one without the other,” the street artist said.