I think it’s accurate to describe Buenos Aires as a city for all. Keeping in mind a historic struggle to empower the working class that stretches into the present, it isn’t a surprise that art starts at ground level. And I mean that literally. Buenos Aires has beautiful, classic museums and art galleries, but the art that’s connected to me and my heart is the street graffiti. I’ll pass a wall with a mural stretched across brick and wrapped around the street corner, and I’ll know it was created out of passion and a pride to share that gift with anyone who walks down the street.
A little history on graffiti in Buenos Aires. In the 50s and 60s, street art was used more as political propaganda or expression than anything. In the 1970s, the dictatorship banned all forms of political expression, which greatly wounded the graffiti scene. 30 years later, a financial crisis left the public in a depressing deficit. As a response, artists began painting colorful, lighthearted graffiti in public spaces in an effort to raise the collective spirit. The idea was that in a time of somberness and hopelessness, art could be a relieving escape, available to all as a resource that could not be depleted nor reserved for a higher class. To me, that sentiment is important. I know we live in capitalist society, but it makes me happy that there is still a place for communal, generous, joy.
In addition, the laws here surrounding public art is a bit different from those of the US. Graffiti is not frown upon as an act of rebellion exhibited by the misguided, but rather smiled upon, as an act of appreciated beauty by artists. It is perfectly legal as long as the owner of the building has consented to its’ production. In fact, many times building owners ask artists to create art on the faces of their buildings. Because of this, a very amicable relationship exists between the artists, the public, and law enforcement.
Some of the street art is acute expression, but most is just happy. Sometimes I feel trodden down by the volume of art that is supposed to have a deep, philosophical meaning, and I prefer art simply for arts sake. So, being able to walk through any neighborhood here and see murals of cheerful giraffes or shadows embracing is an experience I cherish. I actually live on a small cobblestone street, Calle Russel, which is famous throughout the whole city for its’ wall art. Every house has a wall around its’ perimeter, and every wall has its’ own colorful graffiti. It’s easy to see that as the summer air has begun floating through the city, so have the people. On a regular day, hoards of people filter through my street to muse the beautiful displays. At least a handful of times per week, I have to kindly ask people to move from my doorstep so I can get into my home. Countless professional and amateur photo shoots, smoke sessions, and intimate moments between couples have taken place on my street inspired by the art that it carries. It’s beautiful— just sitting outside my house I get to see people at their best. Nobody walks down my street in a rush or a bad mood. People take their time, and open themselves, susceptible to and humbled by what is before them. I think graffiti here is a much like fireworks or movie theaters, as in spaces intended to gather people and bring out the un-jaded wonder and love in them.
The photo I’ve attached to this post is the mural on my house of an astronaut riding a bicycle through a starry sky. This mural is an example of the serendipitous theme graffiti takes on here. I think you’d have to try pretty hard to glean a political message from an astronaut/bicyclist pedaling down the Milky Way.