Buenos Aires: An endless, open-air canvas for street artists
By Julieta Barrera
Buenos Aires, Sep 29 (EFE).- A spirit of democratic freedom amid the chaos of the city has made Argentina’s capital, and its building facades in particular, a coveted and virtually limitless space for street artists to showcase their creations.
Home to one of Latin America’s most active, spontaneous and independent art movements, that scene in Buenos Aires was given a boost in 2009 by a muralism law that allows artists to spray-paint and decorate walls with the property owners’ consent.
Street art varies around the world, reflecting different societies’ idiosyncrasies and relationship to their public areas.
In the case of Buenos Aires, Franco-Argentine artist Pol Corona underscored the open-mindedness of the people and the society.
He said that trait “draws you in and encourages you to ask permission so a relationship can be forged with the owners of the walls.”
In recent years, that openness of local inhabitants toward street art has been reflected in a series of activities the city carries out to promote and broaden its reach.
They include the various editions of Color BA, a festival that draws Argentine and foreign street artists to the city and has seen 15,000 square meters (161,250 square feet) of walls and building facades decorated with colorful artwork.
Cecilia Quiles, a member of Graffitimundo, an organization that has supported and promoted the work of Buenos Aires street artists for more than a decade, says people’s attitudes in Argentina are unlike those in other countries where the use of public space is strictly regulated.
“Their mentality is different. Their recent memory is different,” she said.
Beyond a culture in which political expressions and posters on walls have traditionally been commonplace, the big trigger for street art, and particularly stencil graffiti (which employs stencils to make easily reproducible images and text), was the 2001 economic crisis.
In addition to the pot-banging popular demonstrations known as “cacerolazos,” protests against the government’s freezing that year of US dollar-denominated bank accounts also took the form of painted slogans on government buildings in the capital’s financial district.
It was in that context that graphic design and animation artists, who already had been creating street art independently in urban spaces, began meeting in the city’s residential neighborhoods.
“That was how a street art and large-scale mural scene arose in Buenos Aires and subsequently in other cities around the country,” Quiles said.
The Argentine capital later witnessed an explosion of urban art starting in 2011, although much of it was splashed on walls without the property owner’s permission, the Graffitimundo member said.
Fed up with that free expression, local store owners in Buenos Aires’ Palermo and Villa Crespo neighborhoods responded by contracting street artists to decorate their facades.
“A sort of professionalism took hold and there started to be customers. At the same time, other artists started devoting themselves more to studio work, to working at art galleries and preparing exhibitions in the country and abroad,” Quiles said.
Some neighborhoods like La Boca have an artistic identity that dates back more than a century.
But others like Barracas needed a push from artists like Marino Santa Maria, who transformed a cobblestone lane, Calle Lanin, into an open-air art gallery by decorating dozens of homes with murals and Venetian mosaics.
“Street art is all over Buenos Aires,” in many of its neighborhoods, according to Quiles, who said the capital is a leading city globally for that form of expression.