By Daniel Hester
It was a warm Friday afternoon and I was slowly making my way to the corner of Conde and Jorge Newberry, ambling my way among the residential Palermo streets. Upon arrival I was immediately greeted by two young women, one dressed in a peach colored toga gathered by a white belt about her waist while the other donned electric pink shorts, blue stockings and a matching blouse. All smiles, the two enthusiastically welcomed me to the growing group of people that was forming on the corner sidewalk. These two eclectically clad young ladies, as it turned out, were to be my tour guides for the afternoon.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Jo Sharff
and Marina Charles
. The ladies in this British duo are the coordinators and brains behind graffitimundo
, a new organization dedicated to the promotion and exhibition of the growing graffiti and street art scene in Buenos Aires. “We started graffitimundo because we love the street art in Buenos Aires and thought it was very different to what we had seen in other cities,” recounted Jo and Marina. “We wanted to help people learn more about the street art scene
here and promote artists' work to a wider audience as their talents are incredible.” Combined with their website and online promotion, graffitimundo has done just that. But for those interested in a more interactive
and personal experience, graffitimundo also offers guided tours that, in cooperation with various local graffiti and visual artists, has created a unique and up-close look at the creation of these urban masterpieces
In addition to free hand art, the tour also highlights the work of a number of stencil artists
that can be seen plastering the walls of local restaurants and clubs. Intermingled between these locations, Jo and Marina guide you to various galleries and shops (most of which are owned or operated by the artists themselves) such as Casa L’inc
, and Loveyou*
, allowing you to see additional street art in a more traditional setting as well as give you the opportunity to take one of these masterpieces home for yourself.
For those not acquainted with the origins of porteño street art (as I was), it pays to have a little background information. The urban art scene emerged in the early-to-mid 1980s, following the downfall of the military dictatorship in 1983. After years of repression, many young artists were eager to unleash their newly liberated pens, paints, and aerosol cans on the general public. The result was a small but growing community of artists held together by a single common denominator: their work could not be confined to the page or even the gallery wall but continually sought larger and more public spaces in which they could unleash their creativity.
Thus, the movement began. Years later, however, following the economic meltdown of 2001, a new generation of street artists began to emerge. Though many were formally trained as graphic designers, these new artists began working in the streets as a type of experiment; an effort to bring a vitality and sense of playfulness back to the streets and sidewalks that had so recently endured so much. In contrast to traditional grafitero street art (a graffiti style birthed from the 1970s hip-hop culture of New York City), these new artists were less interested in political overtones or tagging the most number of buildings than in offering a sort of public therapy. It was the art of community building. Art that strove not only to push creative boundaries, but, due to its public nature, tried to establish connections between people. Not just between fellow artists (though many pieces are the result of artistic collectives) or even between the artists and the general public, but that in this art the Argentine people might find a sense of common relief from their current troubles. To this end, these young artists have since been covering the walls, bridges, park benches, and sidewalks of Buenos Aires in their extremely colorful and playful work.
In contrast to other major metropolitan cities where street artists are often pushed underground, working only by night for fear of harassment by local authorities or police, Buenos Aires has seemingly welcomed street artists with open arms. Facing little opposition or police intervention until recently, artists from all over have made the trip to the capital to freely plaster their creativity all over the walls of the city.
So, are you ready to see these graphic monstrosities for yourself? Perfect for the curious tourist or the established art geek, the girls at graffitmundo offer a 3-hour tour that allows you to get up close and personal with not only the art but its creators as well. The tour winds throughout the city, visiting various walls, buildings, bridges, and local parks that showcase some of the best street artists of Buenos Aires. Featured artists range from traditional graffiti, compliments of NERF and Dano, to more psychedelic and experimental pieces. Included among these are artists who have introduced a new take on street art, muñequismo. Characterized by its doll-like or cartoonish characters, use of latex paints to produce vivid colors, and often bizarre or macabre sense of humor, muñequismo ultimately produces something akin to the Sunday funnies on acid. Artists such as Chu, Defi, and Parbo serve as prime examples of this new twist on urban art.
But the spunky Brits don’t even stop there. Thanks to graffitmundo’s close collaboration with the urban art community, you are also provided sneak peeks into the personal studios of numerous artists allowing a level of interaction with the art and its creators that I dare say you will not find in any traditional museum. To top off the afternoon, the tour ends with ice-cold beers at Hollywood in Cambodia, a local Palermo bar that doubles as an art gallery for stencil collectives Run Don’t Walk, Bs. As. Stncl, and Malatesta. Good people, great art, and free beer. Sounds like a fantastic way to spend a Friday afternoon. Be sure to bring your walking shoes and a good camera. You will not want to miss a single image from your urban art excursion.
*To learn more about graffitimundo or urban street art in Buenos Aires, visit www.graffitimundo.com