Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grafiteros: Artists, Criminals or Both?

A fat frog and a psychedelic girl, behind the Central Cemetery.

Anyone who's spent some time in Bogotá has seen the city's great graffiti, murals and varied street art, which decorates walls all over town. Much is political, other just colorful, beautiful and creative.

But graffiti artists, called grafiteros, work on the edge of the law, often painting on city- or privately-owned walls, and doing their work furtively. Because many graffiti artists are young and male, into drugs and alternative politics, and probably don't work in suits and ties, they often get branded as criminals. That's sad, since their work does a tremendous amount to brighten up this grey city and make it citizens think and reflect. Some graffiti, of course, is just ugly and visually polluting.

Diego Felipe Becerra, graffitero killed by police.
A tragic case the other day brought to the headlines the grafiteros' uncomfortable situation. Several  young men were painting under a bridge in north Bogotá when police appeared, pursued them and shot one fatally in the back. News reports have produced two portraits of the victim, Diego Becerra, who was 16: a clean-living, enthusiastic street artist, according to his family, or a mugger, according to a bus driver and at least one neighbor.

Becerra with a creation. 
None of which, of course, explains why the police shot to death a teenager who was painting a wall, even if, as alleged, he'd  mugged bus passengers.

The case has, at least, received attention. Vice President Angelino Garzon has even committed his own staff to investigate the killing.

Investigators have reported that Becerra did not fire a weapon, as a police officer had claimed, and the policeman who shot Becerra has been suspended pending the investigation's findings. Meanwhile, other grafiteros have marched demanding justice in the case.

A piece of wall art in La Candelaria reportedly made by Becerra. 

Camilo Torres, the martyred priest, in the National University.

Bogotá's most famous mural, Che Guevara in the National University. 

Leftist leaders, in the National University campus. 

Near the red light district, a mural celebrates equality and dignity for women. 

A colorful mural on Jimenez Ave. 

On Carrera 4, 'No Graff, No Life.'

Tagging under a bridge in central Bogota. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours, which offers graffiti bike tours on request.

1 comment:

Marcela said...

Tragic story and a classic example of police focusing their energies and aggression in the wrong places. I have a friend starting a graffiti tour soon, it should be good.