In Chile, Street Artists Turn Drab Concrete into a Carnival of Color
Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012 11:20 AM
“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.” – Banksy, Wall and Piece
Art lovers accustomed to the strong anti-graffiti sentiment that permeates most American cities can rest assured that the form is alive and well throughout South America. From Bogota to Santiago, Rio to Quito, entire neighborhoods have become vast, public galleries turning row upon row of drab concrete block housing into a carnival of light and color.
In Santiago -- a sprawling metropolis that is home to well over a third of Chile’s population -- barrios like Patronato, Lastarria, Quinta Normal, Santa Isabel -- and especially the bohemian quarter of Bellavista -- are internationally recognized centers of street art. An hour-and-a-half away, the gritty port city of Valparaíso is equally renowned for its graf culture, its crumbling walls and narrow alleyways home to a thriving community of artists and crews. In 2010, Chile’s Consejo Nacional de la Cultura joined a group of wall writers to host a festival there, Graffiti Porteño, to spotlight local artists. Some Chilean writing crews even receive government support.
Unlike other Latin American cities where there are strong gang influences, Santiago is short on tags and big on stencil, wheat paste, block-long latex burners and surreal panoramas that mix cultural references with whimsical themes inspired by politics, anime, space travel and formal art.
These photos in the slideshow below, taken during the week of March 5, barely scratch the surface in terms of the sheer number of wall pieces -- both big and small – that are on display throughout the region; a book would be required to do the topic justice. Instead I offer this collection as a small but representative cross section of the styles and themes of modern Chilean street art.
Contributing writer and photographer Christopher Moraff (www.christophermoraff.com ) is a news features correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and a contributing writer for the magazines Design Bureau and In These Times, where he serves on the Board of Editors. His photography has been shown at exhibits around his hometown of Philadelphia. A selection of his street portraits (2008-2011) and a photo essay on Laurel Hill Cemetery also appeared in Highbrow Magazine.