In the streets of Monterrey, a city best known for being the industrial and technological mecca of Mexico, graffiti and many other forms of urban artistic expression are growing. Hundreds of street artists are active in the metropolitan area of this state capital located in the northeastern part of the country. In synergy with its development and prestige in the field of technology, as it was the first Mexican city with internet during the late 1980s, these artists have started to utilize user-friendly electronic media in order to showcase their painted works and murals on the internet. With sites like YouTube, Flickr, Fotolog, and blogs, artists are finding ways to share their works with the world.
Many of these electronic sites are free and easy to use, making the cost and effort investment minimal. Artists are using these sites to document their works, promote upcoming events, and make connections with other artists. Since many of their street works are illegal – painting on public walls – anonymity and the use of pseudonyms save them from the consequences from the local authorities. For example, the graffiti artist Buster publishes his videos on YouTube about the way he makes this illegal tagging on the cement walls of certain major avenues and multi-story buildings as part of a series of videos called “The Wild Street.” The fans of this risk-taking graffiti artist also upload their tributes and homages to Buster on YouTube
For some artists, the process of painting a mural is almost as important as the mural itself. There are hundreds of videos available on YouTube, including a video, which is uploaded and constantly deleted from the web for different reasons, of a “graffiti attack” where dozens of teenagers organize to paint an underpass along the Alfonso Reyes avenue. To paint in such an exposed location without being arrested while paradoxically they are openly showing off on the Internet takes courage equivalent to a feat in an extreme sport.
On Flickr, one can find photos of works in progress. During the citywide art event “Campeones” that took place in mid-2008, the artists Fidencio, Screw, Blast (all three from Monterrey), Blair (from California) and Eltono (renowned French urban artist) came together to paint a giant whale with some wood panels on the wall of a parking lot. The images found on Flickr with a search for the words “mural” and “campeones” taken by the artists, as well as spectators who watched the painting, provides a visual narration and illustrates step-by-step the transformation of the large, previously abandoned wall to become an alternative tourist attraction.
On an individual level, these electronic sites serve as a type of portfolio. The collective Los Contratistas use their blog [es] to publish recent works, discuss upcoming events, document past activities, present their project invitees, and share a bit of their philosophy.
One person who is part of this collective is the artist known as Fidencio, for his use of the child “saint” Fidencio of El Espinazo, Nuevo León, in his posters and stencils. Sometimes he also includes his blog's address [es] in some of the street appearances. His blog address is his business card for his work, a link of the physical world to the virtual world.
In addition to providing coverage of the work of these urban artists, social media is also important for establishing connection points and for other supporters, especially shops that are directly linked to the gangs, “crews,” or collectives. For example, Streetarte [es], located in a very busy shopping center in central Monterrey is dedicated to the art of airbrushing and graffiti. They take orders to airbrush images on t-shirts, caps and other items. They use their website and their Fotolog, another image hosting service, to showcase their items for sale and as a portfolio for the artists that work there.
On their YouTube channel, they publish videos of those graffiti artists working live, without revealing their faces:
On the same channel, they also add original content of interest to the hip-hop community, which is closely tied to the culture of graffiti. They publish video of conversations with local rappers, such as Güero, national rappers, such as Serko Fu and Caballeros del Plan G, as well as international artists such as the Spanish rappers Violadores del Verso improvising rhymes or “beatboxing.”
These urban artists are making great use of citizen media to promote and share their work. The state of Nuevo León, of which Monterrey is the capital, is the Mexican state with the most users of Fotolog. A mash-up map was recently created to link photographs found on Flickr and Fotolog of murals and other urban art with their corresponding location on a Google map. The result is a map of the metropolitan area of Monterrey showing different locations of murals, graffiti tags, stencil works, or stickers:
To date, there are more than 50 works from artists, via this map, can be integrated without problems to the service of Google Earth. For artists and collectives, these social media sites are becoming a very powerful tool. They have the best of both worlds: an international reach with little effort and little cost, as well as distancing themselves to protect their identity. The pseudonyms that they use when they sign their names in the form of “tags” in the street represent their usernames on the internet, known by their friends but out of reach of the authorities.