Buenos Aires: Exploring the urban art scene

We all know that feeling of the unknown when arriving in a big new city - not knowing where you’re going, using a dodgy-folded tourist map to locate your hotel/hostel and unsure where the best places to eat, drink or shop are (because you don’t want to use your expensive phone data). And that’s why walking tours are great! A chance to literally 'find your feet', learn about the place you've landed in and get an understanding of the local environment and history. You can find a decent walking tour in most tourist hotspots, the majority of which rely on guides doing a good job to earn their tips but don’t necessarily give you insight into what goes on under the surface – the day-to-day life, the culture and the real feelings of those who pound the streets. In Buenos Aires, I discovered a new way of exploring a city – a tour with an artistic twist - I introduce to you Graffitimundo: a not-for-profit organisation that offers a deeper insight into the rich history and culture of the Argentinian capital through the expression of street art. 

Formed in 2009 by two English girls who, when travelling through Argentina, were fascinated by the local street art covering the walls of the city and became passionate about communicating the political context behind the urban art scene. Embraced by local artists and art lovers, Graffitimundo quickly grew into a network of galleries, museums, universities, charities and media outlets, sharing the inspiration and meaning to murals around the city to locals and tourists. Kudos, too, as it's the first of its kind in the world (apparently). 

For most, you'll think of graffiti as a) gang tags, b) vandalism or c) illegal. But there's a difference between graffiti and street art. Whilst according to Argentinian law both are, indeed, illegal, street art is 'tolerated'. How so? Well, in Argentina many of the political parties often commission street artists to paint their campaign propaganda around the city walls and use popular district hotspots to promote their slogan or party name. With that in mind, the police have bigger fish to fry. Interestingly, by law, large-scale buildings (such as the one above) are required to have one side left completely blank reducing windows and sunlight for residents. In the process, they’re creating huge canvases for artists to bring the city to life through colour – perhaps the city planners are secretly big art fans?! 

In 2001, there was a huge economic crash with the majority of Argentinian services being nationalised and the peso falling to $1 USD = 1 PESO. Add to the equation five different presidents within two weeks and Argentina saw 50% of its 37 million population fall below the poverty line overnight. In that situation, street art blossomed as an expression of political unrest and economic distress. It's not vandalism that homeowners despair at; it's admired by residents and even paid for by local businesses to renovate their premises' exterior, transforming the dull social outlook with bright, vibrant artistic flair.






Commissioned by the local football team, Boca Juniors (or La Boca), this mural depicts the heritage of La Boca when back in 1884 a volunteer fire brigade - the first in all of Argentina - was formed after a harsh fire broke out in the barrio.



So why choose Graffitimundo?
Having been highly recommended (and with time on our side), we chose to see the best of both sides of BA and booked onto the North and South City tours. We were accompanied on the North Tour by Benjamin, a photographer by trade, and the South Tour by journalist Anna, both of whom got involved in the project through their love of street art (and their city!). Both tour guides were incredibly knowledgeable sharing the historical, political and artistic background to the creative backdrop in front of us and spoke with real passion. With four tour options to choose from, you can explore multiple areas of Buenos Aires; it's the perfect way to see the city through the eyes of the locals (plus a minibus to save your feet). Check out their tour options here.

You can book online and pay by card so no worrying about carrying cash or running all over the city to find an ATM that actually has funds (welcome to Buenos Aires). Planning ahead is advised as spaces are limited. Book a second tour and get 20% off!
Anyway, enough of the talking. Now for a sneak peak of some of the fantastic artwork you'll see...



An incredibly lifelike piece by Martin Ron for the recent Color BA festival de art in barrio de la Boca.  Can you believe this is all created with spray paint? What precision must be required. www.martinron.com.ar
Can you see spot the three symbols that make up the Incan Trinity?
1. Snake. 2. Condor. 3. Puma
Art-in-progress. On a bank holiday Monday, it was quite a treat to stumble across two artists in action. Late arriving to the 2016 street festival, these two artists (one from France and the other from Japan) often collaborate but prefer to improvise on arrival rather than pre-plan a creation. 
Magee Homeless Man. Painted in January 2014 (one of the more recent pieces we saw, although the scene is ever-evolving!) to represent the struggle of flooding in the artist's life. Pictured carrying a 'Queenslander' - a typical Australian home for the poor - it represents the struggle with flooding that plagued his childhood. The impression is brought to life not just in the subjects drawn (including the tree from the very footpath in front of it) but also with a dripping effect created from the paintbrush being submerged in water. Poignantly, the location of this mural was chosen as the landlord had evicted its long-standing tenants as Palermo's rising popularity drove rents above what the locals could afford.
Gaucho (the name for an Argentinian Cowboy)
Created by a British artist, Jim Vision, who flew into Buenos Aires to embrace the art scene during the 2011 street art festival 'Meeting of Styles'. Back in London, he owns a creative agency in Shoreditch. The piece was completed in three days and required over 200 aerosol cans.
Teta and Salta. The artist, Jaz, completed this in three days and didn't agree that not having money was a reason not to paint. Therefore, this piece was created from the cheapest paint mixed with tar and gasoline - the literal meaning of "street" art.
So, there you have it! A sneak peak into some of the amazing pieces of street art that Buenos Aires has to offer. What is your favourite piece? Have you been on a similar tour elsewhere or do you know of any other cities with incredible street art?


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1 comment

  1. This is so cool, what an amazing way to explore a city! Loved reading this - the Teta and Salta concept of painting with gasoline and tar is just insane but v inspiring.

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