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Graffiti and Urban Art: Voices from Latin American Streets II

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of posts about graffitti and urban art around Latin America. To visit the first series, please click here.

In public spaces, street art (or urban art) represents the voice of the community, marginal groups, and young people that strive to be heard, often defying the notion of private property. Latin America is not an exception for this. Some of Latin American street art is distinct from what is created by the hip-hop movement, focusing on political messages and stories of struggle that speak directly to the viewer.

Through the lens of bloggers, Flickr users and communities, and contributors on YouTube, we offer you an online tour of the art of the streets that communicate secrets and passions at every turn.

Cuba

As in any organized community, graffiti has its own rules. Graffiti’s primary medium of creation is aerosol paint (or spray). Experienced graffiti writers use different sizes of spray valves to control the spread and pressure of the paint, and refill the cans to save money. Thus, it is not uncommon to find artists that consider street paintings that use other medium or techniques (like acrillic paint, brushes, and such) as not part of the graffiti community. These type of paintings might be considered more “art-oriented”, as Guatemalan artist NEARsyx from Hemisferio Urbano expressed in part I of this article. In other words, the variation of medium in graffiti is usually related to the term “street art”.

However, the case of Cuba stands in the middle of this, as shown in a short documentary film called “Havana Bombings” (created and shared by Camila Fernández) about the Cuban graffiti:

One of the interviewees explains a unique characteristic of Cuban graffiti:

Por las características de la economía, se hace muy caro. Lo que supuestamente se hacía con spray porque el resultado es barato, aquí es todo lo contrario. Aquí el spray se encarece mucho. Se usan recursos alternativos. En el festival de Alamar, Rudolfo Renzoni, que fue el creador del festival internacional de rap, la gente, los graffiteros, decían “¿cómo vamos a hacer graffiti si no tenemos spray?”. Y él decía que no, para hacer graffiti no necesariamente necesitas spray.

Due to the characteristics of the economy, it makes it very expensive to do what typically is done with spray paint, because in the United States [spray paint] is cheap, here it's the opposite. Spray paint is very expensive, so they use alternative resources. At the Alamar festival, Rudolfo Renzoni, the creator of the national rap festival, said that the graffiti artists asked how they could do graffiti without spray paint. And he said that no, you didn't necessarily have to do graffiti with spray paint.

The documentary features artists Ink (César Rojas) and NoNo12 (Yanelis Valdés) using paint brushes to create their work on murals.

Another video (provided by user vadebike) shows a gathering in Alamar, one of the cities where the movement has higher activity, with urban artists that use these “alternative” means to create graffiti.

Chile

There are many reasons behind doing street art. One of them deals with bringing public spaces back to life with community art instead of commercializing it, as it happens with abandoned lots and murals. Following a similar aesthetic approach to the street art is blog KELP [es] (“kultura en la pared” / “kulture on the wall”), which focuses on graffiti as way to enhance urban design in Chile. Its statement reads:

KELP.cl busca explorar y promover el trabajo plástico del graffiti, casi desde la perspectiva disciplinar del diseño. Su postura no es reaccionaria ni violenta. Rechazan el vandalismo. Tampoco profundizan en la ideología o el conflicto social que hay tras de muchas de estas expresiones. Eso les permite centrarse principalmente, en la propuesta estética, por lo que generalmente escogen los mejores ejemplos mundiales

KELP.cl explores and promotes the work of graffiti, from the discipline perspective of design. Their approach is neither reactionary nor violent. They reject vandalism. They do not deepen in the ideology or social conflict behind much of these expressions. This allows them to focus primarly on the aesthetic idea, for which usually the best global examples are selected

Earlier this year, the author of KELP profiled Grin, a Chilean artist [es] who has been active for more than a decade. Grin combines his passion for graffiti with another urban discipline: architecture. He practices both in enormous murals that play with depth and texture, and sometimes they merge with the structure of the building itself:

Photo by KELP. Used with permission. Taken from www.kelp.cl

Photo by KELP. Used with permission. Taken from www.kelp.cl

Browsing through the large pools of photos of the streets of Chile of Street Art Valparaíso, Chile*stencil or Los Muros Nos Hablan, it is easy to find other creative examples on how urban buildings and colored fantasies live in the same space harmonically:

Photo by justin fain. Used following a Creative Commons license. Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/fainspawn/2769790038/

Photo by justin fain. Used following a Creative Commons license. Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/fainspawn/2769790038/

Latin America Region

Graffiti suramericano [es], South American Graffiti and SMNR [es] are some of the Flickr groups that collect street art works for the region. Blog network Murales Políticos [es] dedicates one blog for several countries of Latin America to display an interesting gallery of political-oriented murals.

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