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All About Colombia’s Graffiti and Urban Art Vibrant Scene

street with artistic graffiti in the center of Bogota

Updated on 06/17/2024

Dear reader,
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!

Did you know that Colombia is one of the countries with the highest number of murals in the world? In this blog, you will learn how urban art and graffiti have influenced the coffee country.

https://youtu.be/7BST1gPugew

History of Urban Art in Colombia

  • Urban art in Colombia traces its origins back to the 1920s and 1960s, the country’s most tumultuous period marked by a conflict between two prominent political parties—the conservatives and liberals. During this time, both sides used walls as a means of communication, displaying messages of threats or settling scores.
  • In the 1980s, Colombian urban art took an unexpected turn, diversifying under the influence of movements such as hip hop, punk, rap, and breakdance. It gradually shifted from being a medium for threats to becoming a prominent form of artistic, social, and cultural expression, creating unique styles.
  • By the 1990s, urban art in Colombia had solidified as a form of resistance and rebellion against violence, armed conflict, and political dissatisfaction. Today, urban art has gained recognition and institutional support, becoming not only a cultural symbol but also a tourist attraction in Colombia’s major cities. The Comuna 13 in Medellín stands out as a prime example.

International Influences on Colombian Graffiti

  • Similar to many countries, Colombian graffiti has drawn inspiration from various international urban art movements and traditional schools, including New York graffiti, Mexican muralism, and European street art.
  • Internationally acclaimed graffiti artists such as Banksy, Blu, Shepard Fairey, and Vhils have also served as cultural references for many Colombian youth.
  • Presently, Colombian graffiti reflects a clear influence from popular culture, cinema, music, literature, comics, video games, and other forms of artistic expression.

Evolution of Urban Art in Colombia

  • The evolution of urban art in Colombia aligns with the country’s social, political, and cultural changes over recent decades.
  • Urban art has transitioned from a marginal and clandestine practice associated with vandalism and violence to a recognized and valued art form. It now generates impact and transformation in public spaces across Colombian cities and towns.

Various techniques and formats have been incorporated, including:

  • Stencil: Street technique using a mold or template for painting.
  • Sticker: Predesigned stickers displaying images or messages, often conveying political or social themes.
  • Poster: Printed posters adhered to walls or surfaces, covering themes like peace, human rights, the environment, gender, diversity, culture, humor, fantasy, among others.

And each one addresses a different style such as peace, human rights, environment, gender, diversity, culture, humor, fantasy, among others.

Characteristics of Colombian Graffiti

Colombian graffiti incorporates diverse characteristics adapted to the world of urban art and graffiti.

Graffiti Techniques Used in Colombia

  • Tag: Drawing signatures or the artist’s name.
  • Throw up: A quick and simple way to paint letters.
  • Piece: Elaborate and detailed works, such as colorful letters.
  • Wildstyle: A more complex, abstract style focused on letters.
  • 3D Style: Creating three-dimensional volume effects.
  • Bombing: Painting large surfaces with letters quickly.
  • Mural: Large-format works covering entire walls or urban structures.
  • Stencil: Using cut-out templates to reproduce or imitate images.

Styles of Graffiti Most Used in Colombia

  • Realism: Seeks to portray objects, people, etc., in other words, depicts reality faithfully and precisely.
  • Surrealism: Involves creating fantastic and illogical images, blending elements of reality with imaginary ones.
  • Expressionism: Conveys emotions and feelings, aiming to raise awareness among citizens. Often used for disseminating anti-political or ideological messages.
  • Pop Art: Utilizes elements of popular culture and plays with features used by mass media in television, such as advertising.
  • Abstract: Uses geometric shapes and light colors without referencing reality. Often used to represent indigenous tribes in Colombia.
  • Caricature: Implements the use of characters and usually includes humorous situations.
  • Performance: Live and direct art performances where artists create their art while the audience observes the entire process, allowing interaction with the artists. This style is particularly popular in Colombia.

Common Themes and Messages in Colombian Urban Art

Violence and Peace

A recurring theme in Colombian urban art is the representation of violence and the struggle for peace. Many murals and graffiti portray the history of armed conflict in the country, symbolizing the transition from violence to peace.

For instance, in Bogotá, there’s a mural painted by politician Antanas Mockus depicting a firearm bent into a knot, symbolizing the end to violence and crimes in the city.

Cultural and Ethnic Diversity

Colombian urban art also celebrates the cultural and ethnic diversity of the country. Artists use their works to highlight the richness of different ethnic communities, emphasizing the importance of inclusion and harmonious coexistence.

Murals represent traditional dances, typical costumes, and other cultural elements, as well as illustrations of various Colombian religions. 

In Cartagena’s historic center, you can find colorful graffiti showcasing the diversity of cultural and ethnic identity.

Human Rights and Social Justice

Human rights and social justice are among the most addressed themes by Colombian urban artists. 

They often tackle issues such as inequality, discrimination, and the need for true justice in the country. Many murals feature symbols or faces of social leaders and human rights defenders who lost their lives in the fight for justice.

Examples:

  • Bogotá: mural of more than 30 meters honoring the memory of union leaders assassinated to date. It is located on calle 67 with carrera 7 in the Chapinero neighborhood.
  • Cali: mural protesting against gender violence, located on Calle 8 and Carrera 9.

Prominent Artists in the Colombian Graffiti Scene

Colombia’s graffiti scene boasts a variety of artists and collectives known for their talent, trajectory, and contributions to national and international urban art. Each has a distinct style, and some of them include:

  • Toxicómano: Uses graffiti as a form of political and social activism.
  • Bastardilla: Paints strong and sensitive women facing violence and oppression.
  • Stinkfish: Creates colorful and expressive portraits from photographs of unknown people from any community or ethnicity.
  • Guache: Rescues the iconography and worldview of indigenous peoples, i.e., native indigenous tribes of Colombia.
  • DJ Lu: Uses stencils to create images with critical or symbolic intentions.
  • Lesivo: Combines realism and surrealism to create socially impactful and reflective scenes.
  • Crisp: Uses animals and plants with ecological and social messages.
  • Gleo: Paints women and animals inspired by Colombian culture and nature.

Graffiti Controversy in Colombia

Colombia faces challenges in graffiti regulation as government policies vary across regions. Some cities implement measures to integrate graffiti into public spaces as a legitimate art form, while others take a more restrictive approach.

Example:

In Medellín, the government aims to integrate graffiti as an artistic expression. Through agreements with urban artists, the municipality designates public spaces for artists to create murals, fostering graffiti as part of the national and local urban culture.

Conflicts with Private Property

Tension exists between urban artists and building owners. While many view graffiti as a way to beautify the city, others see it as disrespectful or akin to “vandalism.” Consequently, some property owners choose to remove or restore graffiti they consider unnecessary. 

This leads to graffiti artists responding by repainting in the same locations with hostile or threatening messages, fueling ongoing conflicts.

Urban Art Events and Festivals in Colombia

Distrito Grafiti Festival – Bogotá

The Graffiti District Festival has been held since 2011 and brings together more than 100 national and international artists who paint murals in different areas of the city. The purpose is to transform different locations of the city into tourist spaces.

  • Date: Annually over two consecutive weekends, usually between November and December.
  • Location: Different neighborhoods or areas of Bogotá each year.
  • Entry: Free.

You can visit Bogotá Distrito Grafiti for more information.

Pictopía Festival – Medellín

The Pictopia Festival is the largest and oldest urban art festival in Medellin. Since 2012, this event seeks to foster culture through urban art and promote the destigmatization of graffiti as a criminal act where national and international graffiti artists participate.

  • Date: Yearly, typically in October or November, spanning two weeks.
  • Location: Metropolitan area of Medellín, Carrera 43b No. 8-28, El Poblado neighborhood.
  • Entry: Free.

Explore more at Festival Pictopía.

Graficalia Festival – Cali

The Graficalia Festival was created in 2017 to promote graffiti art in public spaces in the city that have been affected by violence. In its sixth edition it was supported by the British Council itself. It is currently one of the most popular and most visited graffiti festivals in the country.

  • Date: Varied months each year, generally in November for a week.
  • Location: Different areas of Cali annually.
  • Entry: Free.

Visit Graficalia for additional details.

KillArt Festival – Barranquilla

The KillArt festival in Barranquilla is an urban art event that has existed since 2015 and is organized by the Alliance Française de Barranquilla.

Basically, its purpose is to turn Barranquilla into an open-air art gallery, in terms of muralism and urban art, while promoting the exchange of knowledge between French and Colombian artists.

  • Date: Typically in February, lasting a week.
  • Location: Various parts of Barranquilla each year, e.g., the 2023 edition in the “Barrio Abajo” neighborhood.
  • Entry: Free.

Check out KillArt for updates.

What to Expect at These Festivals

  • Workshops, urban art and culture conferences.
  • Art exhibitions.
  • Street food, clothing, and crafts entrepreneurship.
  • Artistic and musical competitions (rap, breakdance, hip hop, etc.).
  • Musical concerts featuring local and international urban artists.

Graffiti in Getsemaní – Cartagena

Visiting the murals in Getsemaní offers a unique experience, as it is the most popular, touristy, and graffiti-covered neighborhood in Cartagena. Getsemaní is also known for being the city’s most colorful street.

Explore the history of the neighborhood through graffiti murals, showcasing works not only by local artists but also international ones.

  • Address: Avenida Pedregal No 27-137 to 27-1, Getsemaní neighborhood, less than a kilometer from Castillo de San Felipe in Cartagena.

Just steps away from Calle 29, find the famous “calle de los cuadros,” where art galleries exhibit works on sidewalks and walls. Consider. onsider taking home a souvenir from the displayed pieces. ¡NH Gallery is amazing!

In the heart of Getsemaní or “Plaza de la Trinidad,” experience a vibrant atmosphere filled with local culture, including music, dances, and street ventures. It’s a highly touristy area with many foreigners.

You can visit individually or organize a tour with a travel agency.

Mural Route – Santa Marta

The Mural Route is a relatively young project, initiated in 2019, aiming to establish a public mural gallery in the Historic Center of Santa Marta. The primary goals are to further boost tourism and enhance the city’s aesthetic appeal.

Marvel at artworks primarily crafted by local artists, expressing murals inspired by the Samarian culture against the backdrop of sixteenth-century Spanish colonial houses.

This initiative has quickly become a significant gathering point for tourists. Numerous mural interventions adorn different parts of the Historic Center of Santa Marta.

Locations:

  • Calle 18 between Carreras 1 and 2, on the rear facade of Hotel Andalucian.
  • Calle 18 No, 2-43, at Colegio Ferroviario.
  • Calle 19 No, 2-19, right in the heart of the Historic Center of Santa Marta, Magdalena.

Additionally, the Historic Center of Santa Marta is renowned for its vibrant nightlife. Wander through lantern-lit alleys, offering a plethora of hostels, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Explore colonial churches and delve into the rich historical past of the city.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia. I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia. For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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