All posts tagged: DJ LU

Bogotá : A Liberal Approach To Art Creates Exceptional Street Culture

Bogotá : A Liberal Approach To Art Creates Exceptional Street Culture

Thanks to a globalism of culture, many cities around the world have sprouted vibrant Street Art scenes – including today’s focus, Bogotá, Columbia. Far more open to expression than many cities, Bogotá has become a tolerant and welcoming place for artists on public walls, with the mayor actually agreeing and decreeing that graffiti and street art are a form of valued artistic expression, as long as you lay off the statues and City Hall. The government even gives grants for some painting, and political and social protest on walls goes a little further than you might expect. As part of a personal tour of Columbia in the last couple of months, occasional BSA contributor Yoav Litvin travelled to Bogotá and met a couple of artists who told him about the scene there.
 
 
by Yoav Litvin

We arrived at the Bogotá airport in the evening. For convenience sake, we took a cab from the airport to our accommodation in the heart of La Candelaria, an area of town known for its museums, beautiful architecture and street art. I knew Bogotá was going to be as special as far as its street art scene. I just did not know yet how incredible it was going to be.

My introduction to Bogotá street art and graffiti was the highway from the airport into town, aka Calle 26—it was completely BOMBED. When I say bombed I mean there was not a single space free of art on the walls or tunnels of the highway for miles on end. The beautiful graffiti and street art along with countless tags adorning the walls made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Immediately I knew Bogotá was going to be special, a heaven for street art and graffiti.

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Stink Fish. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

During my visit I was fortunate to meet two very active local artists: DJ LU (aka Juegasiempre), otherwise known as the “Bogotá Banksy” and CRISP, an Aussie transplant that has made the city his home. They were courteous and answered some of my questions.

Yoav Litvin: What makes the street art and graffiti scene so unique in Bogotá? Please discuss the political background in Bogotá in particular and Colombia in general and some policies (legality etc.) that influence the great diversity of work on the streets. What’s special here?
DJ LU: Bogotá’s treasure is its diversity, in every sense. It has very eclectic architecture, interesting places, and is extremely multiracial. Urban expressions are not the exception; here you can find murals, tagging, hip hop graffiti, paste ups, stickers, characters, lettering and stencil work among others. Bogotá is an ideal playground for public expression. First of all, its urban structure is patchy making it ideally suited as far as context; there are many residual spaces, remnants of highway constructions, parking lots and abandoned structures.

Second, the legislation is tolerant, so unless you are engaged in a very clear act of vandalism you won’t have a problem with the law. Residents are also becoming familiar with the practice so there is tolerance from the local population.

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Toxicomano . Unknown .  DJ LU .  Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

CRISP: Bogotá is one of the most exciting, underrated and prolific urban art scenes on the planet. This is due to a combination of several factors, which have created a melting pot of creativity and expression. Firstly, there is a long history of civil unrest, inequality and injustices in Colombia that make street art and graffiti a potent form of expression and protest for the people.

It actually has the longest running civil war in the world, over half a century of bloodshed!

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Toxicomano . DJ LU . Lesivo . Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

Secondly, it has a very tolerant legal approach to urban art compared to most other cities in the world. It’s not technically illegal but “prohibited”, which provides a unique situation where grafiteros can take their time and paint in broad daylight. That said, an artist still needs to be cautious of police depending on the type of street art you are doing and due to police history of brutality.

Thirdly, Colombia has a rich resource of inspiration: its people, music, food, indigenous cultures, animals and plants from the Pacific, Andes, Amazon and Caribbean! This complex mix of factors makes Bogotá’s urban art scene truly unique.

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DJ LU Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

Yoav Litvin: What motivates you in your work? Please discuss how your work is an expression of your development within the scene in Bogota.
DJ LU: My work is motivated by reality. I’m interested in making people aware–through art–of lots of situations that affect us as a society. The first project I started with on the street is the Pictogram project. It is based on semiotics and sign language. As it proposes very simple designs it is intended to relay a message immediately. In this project I have designed more than 60 pictograms that I have put up all over Bogotá and many other cities around the world in stencil form, stickers and paste ups.

Afterwards came the Street Pride project in which I took photographs of anonymous people whose appearance I found aesthetically interesting and who were interacting with the public space and I used them as models for my work. I believe that advertisements and the media in general are fabricating idols for the people to follow and to speed up consumerism. I want to make the invisible visible, to bring attention to anonymous people who construct our street culture.

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 Crisp. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

CRISP: I’ve always expressed myself through art from a very young age. In terms of street art I was a late bloomer. Despite an interest and curiosity in urban art, It was only when I came to Bogota that I truly became a street artist! I met grafitero friends here who encouraged me to put my artwork up in the street. Street art has shown me that it’s important that our public spaces aren’t controlled and dictated solely by councils, corporations, marketing companies, and formal art institutes.

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Toxicomano. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

Yoav Litvin:  How do you see the future of street art and graffiti in Bogota?
DJ LU: I believe that the progress of street art and graffiti is determined by a lot of factors: legal issues, trends, politics and economics. Graffiti and street art are trendy now in Bogotá, and this will most likely decrease. At that point only the ones that are doing it for real will keep working outside.

CRISP: The huge changes I’ve witnessed since 2001 through 2008 until the present are phenomenal. Bogota’s urban art has exploded in terms of quality and quantity. Everywhere you look, walk and drive, you see some form of creativity and expression on nearly every block in the city!

Mostly it is grass roots, passion-driven and totally devoid of the more corporate, council and gallery-organized and funded “street art” you see in many other cities in the world. In the near future I see many talented Colombian artists finally getting the recognition, support and ability to share their work with a wider international audience they deserve. Ironically this point isn’t important to many grafiteros here.

It’s the way of life, the friends, the culture, pure expression, fun, connecting with the public and the happiness this connection with the street brings that’s most important! In the future Bogota will be known as an urban art mecca but for all the right reasons!

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Lesivo. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Guache. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Stinkfish. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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APC . Stinkfish . FCO . Temor. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Praxis. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Frank Salvador . Sur Beat. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Bastardilla wheatpaste afloat beneath a handful of dripping tags. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Bastardilla. Detail. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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El Pez. Bogota, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

 

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Community Murals and the Violent History of Comuna 13 in Medellin

Community Murals and the Violent History of Comuna 13 in Medellin

Despite the rise of the so-called Street Art scene of the last couple of decades, the more familiar form of this kind of expression for most people is the community mural. This outward expression of a neighborhood or cities aspirations and history can have an important impact on the residents, fostering a sense of shared culture and values and, in the case of memorial walls, grief. This winter author, street art fan, and occasional BSA contributor Yoav Litvin travelled to Medellin, Colombia, where he toured a neighborhood traumatized by crime and saw how murals by local artists and government-sponsored paint can affect every day life in a community.
 
by Yoav Litvin

San Javier, aka “Comuna 13”, is considered the most dangerous, crime-ridden district in Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia. It has been plagued by violence at the hands of drug cartels, local gangs, guerillas and paramilitary groups all of whom seek control of its strategic location as a crossroads of illegal goods coming into and out of Medellín, and thus Colombia as a whole. In 2010, the neighborhood saw 162 murders for every 100,000 people, an astonishing 10 percent of all homicides in the city.

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Comuna 13. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

Traveling through Medellín, I was intrigued to hear from a local art lover of a street art and graffiti project at Comuna 13 aimed at bringing art, education and peace to this embattled community. Using art as an instrument for the promotion of peace has a bloody history in Comuna 13, where 10 hip-hop artists were murdered as they tried to endorse an end to violence.

Determined to see the project for myself, I sought a local guide who would agree to take me there. I was surprised to discover that there was a company that organizes tours of Comuna 13 and the next morning at 10 a.m. I met Juan Manuel, a friendly local resident who is bilingual and co-founder of “Discover Medellín”.

For a couple of hours we walked together through the streets of Comuna 13, taking in all the beautiful art that is part of the “Medellín is painted for life” project. Throughout the tour the very knowledgeable Juan educated me on the local government’s efforts to revitalize the community at San Javier, including the installation of an escalator system aimed at helping residents get to and from work, free house paint for residents in a variety of colors and investment in the construction of nearby libraries that would cater to the communities largely younger population, steering them away from crime. According to Juan, these investments have led to a dramatic reduction in violence and a transformation of Comuna 13.

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Chota. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

I had the opportunity to ask Juan Manuel about these changes at Comuna 13 with a focus on the role of street art:

YL: What is the role of art in Comuna 13?
JM: Art serves multiple purposes. It allows local artists to share their passion for art with the local community. It’s a positive influence for younger troubled kids who have limited opportunities in Colombia. Many are discriminated against solely because of the notorious barrio they live in. The public art also serves as a historical record with many of the murals documenting Medellín’s violent past. Recently, several home-owners along the tour have approached me with an invitation to paint a mural on their walls to help improve the reputation of their community.

YL: How has the government promoted the art and artists in Medellín?
JM: The local government has been actively involved in the recruitment of artists to paint murals in Comuna 13 as well as various other locations across the city. The legal walls have been a big hit with local artists who are eager to create and share their passion with the rest of the city. The local government continues to actively search for new areas throughout the city for displaying public art. In addition, the local government has sponsored artists by providing them with the monetary funds to complete various projects throughout the city.

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Artist Unknon. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

YL: Do you believe the art has a positive role in affecting crime levels in Medellín? How?
JM: Yes. Walking tours like this would not be possible without the drastic changes in the community.  A few years ago, violence was a daily occurrence in the community. But after the local government invested millions of dollars in paint for local residents and allowed local artists to paint murals throughout Comuna 13, safety in the area has greatly improved. These acts have given many long-term residents faith in local politicians who risked political backlash. Locals now see more and more interest in their community from the government, businesses, residents from other parts of Medellín and a few foreigners like you who are eager to explore the transformation of Comuna 13.

YL: What are your plans for the future?
JM: Together with my partner Arthur, we are currently in the process of securing funding for an art project in Comuna 13. The goal is to invite artists from around the world to paint inspirational art projects aimed at promoting the community.

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Paola Delfin. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

After our tour I returned to my hostel and told my hostess of my experience. She was horrified to learn that I visited Comuna 13 and told me that the only reason I was left unharmed was because I had the obvious look of a foreigner: “Me and my friends never go there. If you look local or Latino in general, you are stopped, questioned, or worse… They are always suspicious of young men who may be from a rival gang.” she said.

Most of the street art and graffiti in Comuna 13 was made by kids or young people that received graffiti classes in Casa Kolacho or Casa Morada, by social entities which work with young people in some parts of this big infamously violent community.

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Senor OK . Grena Cru. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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REK. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Bomba . Kone. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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El Pole. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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DEXS. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Javid Jah. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

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Kone . AXND. Medellin, Colombia. (photo © Yoav Litvin)

 

Our thanks to Yoav for his contribution and for sharing his trip and observations with BSA readers.

 

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Please note: All content including images and text are © BrooklynStreetArt.com, unless otherwise noted. We like sharing BSA content for non-commercial purposes as long as you credit the photographer(s) and BSA, include a link to the original article URL and do not remove the photographer’s name from the .jpg file. Otherwise, please refrain from re-posting. Thanks!
 
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