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Cool Bogotá Street Art

The La Candelaria neighborhood in Bogotá is commonly referred to as a “transition” neighborhood. Five years ago or so, according to some of the locals we talked to, the area was really quite sketchy and dangerous. Not many tourists would come around because of this. But it’s changing – slowly. It’s not difficult to see why this neighborhood had a reputation for “narcotic vacations”.  As soon as nightfalls all of the “itches & twitchies” as Lindsay and I would call them would come limping or running or walking sideways towards you very loudly asking if we were interested in cocaine or marijuana. The first time this happened we were caught off guard, after that we were ready with our money and followed them to a scary back-alley to complete the transaction. I am kidding. It was a well-lit side street. JK.

We weren’t expecting so many dang crackheads to be canvasing the area we were staying in. Each corner of our block had a few completely cracked-out people attempting to sell drugs. The dealers and drugs, coupled with the fact that the weather was pretty crappy (high in the mid 50s, rain/clouds all day) and I had come down with a sort of flu or travelers you-know-what bug, had us feeling we were spending way too much time in Bogotá (4 nights).

I wasn’t able to leave my bed on day 2 so on day 3 we finally took the Bogotá Graffiti Tour that takes you around our neighborhood and introduces you to the artists, their inspiration and their works of art. This was something different Lindsay and I hadn’t done in the past.

My feelings are a bit mixed on graffiti. The dumb shit that you cannot read (looks like scribble) that you can often times find on beautiful buildings which in my opinion is ruining them is called “tekking”.

This ugly stuff is called “tekking” and apparently is just part of the drill when it comes to graffiti. Many of the artists making beautiful pieces of art also “tek” blank walls. I don’t get it. I can’t read it, it makes a good looking building ugly and it’s expensive to remove. If I owned a building and caught the person doing this to it I would want to punch them in the face very hard.


But there are some other pieces that I had no idea were a part of the street art scene and I completely understood why the guide was referring to street art and not simply just graffiti.

This particular piece of art is created in a shop (it’s plastic) and then the Australian artist glues the piece the buildings. You can’t exactly tell here, but this is 15ft above the ground, so some type of ladder must have been used.


The tour was really helping to beautify the same part of town that I felt was ugly the first couple of days that we were here.

Some of the art was gigantic, like this one depicting a rural corn farmer. I didn’t catch all of the details of this work, but the message was intriguing. This mural shows the hardships poor farmers face when they cannot afford the GMO seeds sold by large companies. According to our guide if a farmer will not sell their land or buy the seeds the companies hire individuals to displace the farmers. Colombia is #1 in displaced residents living within their country. It’s probably worth it to do your own research on this topic, but nevertheless it was interesting to hear..


I did a little bit of a double take when the guide shared the story of large companies displacing farmers who wouldn’t work with them – and the fact that was the inspiration for this colorful piece above. But the more and more that we walked around and learned I realized most of the pieces of work around town were politically inspired. I am so used to seeing someone’s name is stupid bubble letters that I never associated graffiti with a meaningful message. I was pleasantly surprised, regardless if I agreed with the message or not.

This piece, which is part of a much larger mural, is supposedly representing two things: 1. The guy in the left is the current Colombian president and represents his greed and 2. to the right is a seal with a construction helmet. If you translate the words inside it says “The exploitation ruins lives” which is referencing the exploitation of Colombia’s natural resources for the profits of multi-national companies. It’s some serious allegations that I again recommend you do your own research on before drawing a conclusion.


Another part of the tour that caught me off guard were all the techniques that the artists were using. I figured that if it was street art that it was spray paint. Want a picture? Spray paint. Want me to write my cool nickname in bubble letters? Give me that spray paint.

Well, it turns out I was completely wrong. You already saw that plastic stained-glass-looking toucan that was glued to a wall. And there are several other ways to either paint or make art on the streets of Bogotá.

Look closely. In the black and yellow stripes you will see a small painted mask. These masks are carved, painted and glued to walls throughout Bogotá. I fricken love this these things. I had a lot of fun walking around town afterwards trying to find more. Watch out Chi-town I might be putting these up when I return!

This isn’t just a street view shot. Look closely at the yellow building on the right hand side. Do you see her? It’s a statue of a lady fishing. These (once brighter) green statues are all over the city hovering on the 2nd and 3rd floors, so make sure you are looking up when walking around town. Each sculpture represents a different type of local person (street performers, shoe shiners and I guess fisherwoman). Our guide was laughing because she said she has never heard of or seen anyone fishing because there are no lakes or oceans near Bogotá.

Stencil, used here, is another method that street artists are using more and more often. This piece represents all the different soldier groups –and how each of the soldier is a puppet doing work on someone else’s behalf. Interesting message. But also interesting is that corporations have also begun to use stencil street art to deliver advertising messages. The “real” street artists quickly tek over it because they don’t like it which I find ironic.

Is it Legal?

One of the big questions on the tour was “is this legal?” The answer was much more complex than I was anticipating. Technically, no – it is not legal. But the consequences for being caught defacing a building are small fines. Bogotá street artists will not go to jail, period. At least not for graffiti.

The no-jail policy is due to a couple of factors.

In 2011 a local street artist was painting his calling card, Felix the Cat, on an underpass. An officer pulled over to question/arrest him and Felix the Cat fled on foot. The officer pursued, shot and killed Felix the Cat. The officer claimed at the time that it was necessary because Felix was going to attack or rob someone but the public wasn’t buying his story. An independent investigation led to the officer’s arrest and he is currently serving a life-long prison sentence.

In 2013 Justin Bieber came to town for a concert. The next day he visited La Candelaria with a police escort to create a beautiful piece of art. The Canadian flag. But instead of a maple leaf Justin used a marijuana leaf. Cool. The locals were irate. How could Felix the Cat be shot and killed by police for painting on a wall and Justin Bieber is escorted by police to do the same? Makes sense.

Lastly, the current Bogotá mayor has a bit of a checkered past and was known to in his young days use street art to push his own political ideals. As such he has a soft spot in his heart for this type of art and has worked for the past couple of years to make some space for these artists to work legally.

I believe that how the town is governing the street art and artists is the right thing to do. Almost all of the buildings that you saw in this post gave permissions to the artists to paint their walls. Big, beautiful murals take time – some up to 2 weeks – and are for the most part painted during the day. The owner gets a couple of benefits. The first being a beautiful wall. The second is that part of the code of street art is that you don’t tek murals – so you keep all that stupid stuff off your walls. Win-win.

But there are still tons of great buildings with the ugly unreadable tekking that I don’t and probably never will get. Those people are treated in the same manner as the ones creating a mural. Should those artists, if caught be responsible for paying the bill for removal? What should be done if they cannot pay the bill?

Anyways – I don’t know the right answer, but I do know I am glad that we went on the tour and got an inside look at the street art that covers most of the buildings in La Candelaria.

Bogotá Street Art

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