If you’d like to see the history of Buenos Aires then look no farther than its streets, where the city’s colorful and sometimes tragic past is painted on the walls. The collective known as graffitimundo has made it it’s mission to chronicle and share the city’s proud history of urban art, so Milk Made got in touch with two of graffitimundo’s founders, Marina Charles and Jonny Robson, to explain why graffiti is different in Buenos Aires.
Milk Made: graffitimundo is filming a documentary about how the street art of Buenos Aires became an outlet for activists. Why is this a story worth telling?
graffitimundo: Urban art in Buenos Aires has different roots to the rest of the world. Street art and graffiti isn’t a modern phenomena - the city walls have been painted for as long as anyone can remember. For over a century the walls have been painted by artists, activists, politicians and the public. During periods of repression the walls have played a crucial role as a channel for communication and expression. The art tells the story of the city’s turbulent history. It’s an incredible story, both tragic and inspiring, and relatively few people know anything about it.
MM: What relationship do the people of Buenos Aires have with their street art today?
gm: It’s a complex relationship, which builds on a long tradition of using public space for communication and expression. People are used to the walls being painted, so the act of painting a wall isn’t particularly shocking to anyone. There’s a tradition of muralism and political art that is recognised as being an important part of the city’s cultural heritage, and a way of dealing with a traumatic history. In recent years a different generation has created political art which has focused on bringing color and positivity back to the streets. There’s generally a lot of mutual respect between artists and the public.
MM: graffitimundo conducts several tours through Buenos Aires including “some of the grittier parts of the city,” according to your website. Is street art different in these areas?
gm: The art feels different depending on where it is - the best street art is site specific. A piece painted on the front wall of boutique shoe shop is going to have a different effect to a piece painted on the walls of an abandoned prison in an area full of slum housing. Different parts of the city have different types of architecture. Industrial areas have warehouses and factory walls, whereas low rise residential neighbourhoods have beautiful colonial style buildings which can be painted. There’s exceptional art in lots of different neighbourhoods, and a talented artist will create a piece which works in a specific environment. But since few people venture outside the tourist areas and traditional residential neighbourhoods, we started running the Hidden Walls tour, which takes in a different side to the city.
MM: Who are some of the most well-known street artists and why are they popular?
gm: Buenos Aires Stencil and rundontwalk are legends, and have both created iconic stencil art throughout the city since the time of the 2001 economic crisis. Their work incorporates social themes, satire and a touch of the surreal and has been hugely influential. Jaz is a rising star and internationally celebrated artist, whose colossal paintings incorporate unconventional materials such as tar, petrol, brick dust and mud. The DOMA and FASE collectives transformed the city through creating huge collaborative and graphic works using bright colours and latex paint. Other newer collectives such as Triangulo Dorado are developing a new style or urban muralism, incorporating techniques and materials from graffiti to create stunning Klimt-esque murals. It’s difficult to single out artists, as there are so many incredibly talented individuals who make up an increasingly varied and dynamic scene.
MM: One piece of work that caught my eye is a large drawing of a man wearing a cat mask attacking another man in a white mask. What’s the story behind this drawi*gm:** Jaz has spent a few years exploring violence and combat as a theme. Sometimes the figures he paints are football hooligans, sometimes they’re animals, or animal-human hybrids. In this case the piece is people dressed as animals - men fighting in lucha libre style mexican wrestling masks. The piece is created using tar, latex, petrol and aerosol and is a great example of Jaz’s iconic style.
MM: Is there a piece of street art that is especially important to you?
gm: The first huge piece we saw just after arriving in Buenos Aires was probably what inspired us to start graffitimundo. There was a truly awe-inspiring collaborative piece completely covering the walls of a power station. Over 20 artists had worked together, seamlessly incorporating graphic character art, stencils and letters into one huge and vibrantly colourful piece. We stumbled across it in the middle of a deserted area, a forgotten part of a residential neighbourhood, next to the city rubbish dump and some tower blocks. We had never seen anything like it anywhere, and were full of questions about how on earth this wall could be there, who had made l and why. We’re still very grateful to this wall and the artists who painted it for inspiring our journey into the
Buenos Aires urban art scene and leading us to its protagonists.
photos by: Koury Angelo
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