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Street art in Bogotá
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Street art in Bogotá

Nowadays Bogotá has the most impressive offering for murals, graffiti and other forms of street art. This must be partly thanks to the city legislation that these days considers it acceptable form of artistic expression. The roots of this change of general attitude occurred in 2011 when a young graffiti artist, Diego Felipe Becerra, was shot dead by police when creating his signature image of Felix the Cat on the walls of an underpass in the Colombian capital. Police tried to portray Diego Felipe Becerra as a suspected armed robber, but outcry over the death, along with condemnation from the UN and a flurry of graffiti protests across the Colombian capital, sparked a wave of change for graffiti and street art and how it is viewed.

The tragedy of Diego Felipe Becerra and subsequent outrage brought graffiti and street art to the attention of the public and political figures, it brought about a change in the Colombian capital and has resulted in Bogotá being filled with amazing artwork. Gustavo Petro, then mayor of Bogotá, issued a decree to decriminalise graffiti and street art painting to help promote what was seen as a new form of artistic and cultural expression, but with the agreement that certain areas should remain free from graffiti, such as public buildings and monuments. Of course, the nature of graffiti and street art is to play against the rules, so many creators naturally headed for the off limit areas to leave their marks, which makes for an uneasy tension with the authorities.

While amazing pieces of art can now be seen all over Bogotá among the estimated 5,000 murals that currently exist, it is still an uneasy peace that exists between graffiti street artists and the authorities. As recently as 2014 problems arose, when Police authorities again became overzealous and tried to paint out all the graffiti on Calle 26, an area famous for hosting works by local and international names. Interim Mayor Rafael Pardo had to meet with concerned graffiti and street artists after they complained, the major indicating the police had gone too far and were only supposed to remove works not officially sanctioned. This follows an incident in October 2013 when that man Justin Bieber was out doing his graffiti again, this time on Calle 26 and near to the spot where Diego Felipe Becerra was shot, the irony being that Bieber was given an escort by Bogotá police. The incident resulted in a 24 hour graffiti protest that covered Calle 26 in hundreds of new graffiti pieces amid accusations that many graffiti and street artists suffer abuse, persecution and sometimes extortion from some police officers.

Despite the uneasy peace that sometimes pervades the Colombian capital, there is no doubt that Bogotá has become a real hot spot for amazing street art, both by local artists and visiting international artists. A good number of international graffiti and street artists have visited the Colombian capital in recent years, including Italian artist Blu, who left a typically charged political mural involving skulls and drugs back in 2009. Bogotá has also more recently welcomed artists such as Alex Hornest, Claudio Echo, Fin Dac, Seth Globepainter, JADE and Mad C to leave amazing street art on the cities walls. Along with international street art festivals taking place, such as Meeting of Styles in Bogotá and others in cities such as Medellin, Cali and Manizales, the future is looking decidedly colourful.

On of the best ways to familiarize yourself with Bogotá´s famous street art is to take part in one of the many Graffiti Tours on offer in the capital. A lot of them are conducted in English and you can choose to do them by foot or by bicycle. In order to cover more, I would choose the latter one for sure.

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