Bogostreets: From a Criminal Practice to a Touristic Attraction

Bogostreets is a 10 episodes series on the city of Bogota, on Arte. The first episode “Tagger la Calle 26” focuses on Street Art. The opportunity to discover some artists and to have a look at the different types of urban art that can be seen in the city.

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In 2011, the former mayor of Bogota, Gustave Petro, issued a decree that deeply affected the relationship between the government and street artists. A tragic event was the cause of the change of heart. On August 19th of the same year, Diego Felipe Becerra, a young street artist, was shot by the police while painting a mural. His shooting provoked a wave of protests from various artists, who denounced the hostile behaviour of the police.

Diego Felipe’s signature was Felix the Cat. It is no wonder that artists choose to honour him by using his signature all over the city.

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For Diego Felipe’s father, this tragedy helped improving safety for other street artists. Ever since 2011, they have been allowed to paint on certain walls. However, the decree prevents them from painting on public buildings and monuments. The goal was to improve the relationship between the police and the artists. But more importantly, the idea was to promote a responsible and legal practice of graffiti and to prevent another tragedy.

However, the tensions between the artists and the police remain. Since the decree passed, police officers are allowed to set a range of fines or ask artists to clean up specific areas, if they painted in the off-limits ones.  It gave artists the confidence to denounce the double standards. In 2017, when Justin Bieber decided to paint on a wall of the city, he was accompanied by a police escort. His status as an international star might have justified the hightened security. However, to artists, it was seen as hypocritical. Why would the police protect a famous Canadian singer while he paints on a wall in Bogota, while local artists, face abuse and persecution? There have been other occurrences where artists protested against the methods used by the police. However, this one received international coverage due to the status of the pop star.

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Despite the tension, the decriminilisation appears as beneficial for both the city and the artists. First, it allowed street artists to create a relationship with a new public. People took interest in what they did. They were no longer people who disfigured the city. It allowed them to be commissioned by building owners to paint on their walls. Paradoxically, some owners would rather encourage painting than graffitis on their wall. A clear indication that they are still reluctance towards this particular type of urban art in Colombia.

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The subjects painted all over the city are often political. They focus on women’s rights, the country’s past, the “war on drugs”, or climate change … Crips, an Australian street artist, fell in love with the city. He decided to start a free tour that takes people all over the city. To discover artists, and their arts and to get a better understanding of what they do. It is a real opportunity not only for the artists to showcase their work but also for the city which became a touristic attraction. People all over the world, come to the city to either paint or to discover Colombian street art.

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The current mayor, Enrique Penalosa, is less tolerant of graffiti as his predecessor. He started a plan to restore thousands of traditional houses in the historic downtown area of Candelaria. There is no doubt that recriminalizing street art would not have the expected effect. It would only strengthen the artists’ desire to paint the city and to express their probable frustration.

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