An art professor from the US visited our program in India last fall and made a wonderful suggestion to us before we parted ways. She encouraged each of the students to find a new way of looking at Pune: a place that was slowly becoming familiar after 3 months of living there.
She told us about her particular love of signs. She had taken pictures of unique signs she found in every place she traveled. As she flipped through her photographs, I felt like I was seeing these familiar places in a new way. Picking up on things from a different angle. A fresh breath.
On our final day in Buenos Aires, a few of us signed up for a Graffiti Mundo bike tour of the graffiti in the city. A fresh way for us to see Argentina in our final few hours there. We met the Graffiti Mundo and Bike duo in the Botanical Gardens and saddled up on our baby blue bikes and matching helmets for the day. We rode down the bicycle lanes in Palermo, occasionally stopping traffic to cross the streets and a few minutes later came to our first stop.
Just moments into the tour, we realized we would be challenged to see graffiti in a different way. Our American understanding of the history and community response to it didn’t have anything to do with what we would be seeing today. American graffiti began in the 1970s as a teenage act of rebellion. Argentina, on the other hand, was under a harsh military dictatorship during that decade and didn’t experience the same outbreak of public art or rebellion in the same way. Graffiti didn’t come to Argentina until the 1990s, only twenty years ago.
And when someone in our group asked if there was any negative community response to graffiti, then or now, the tour guide replied:
“No, it’s not like that. It’s not like it is in America. It doesn’t indicate an area where there are gangs, or violence. People actually want to this art in their neighborhood. They will commission it from artists so people don’t spray random words or phrases on the walls, you know, like ‘I love you mom,’ or ‘Will you marry me?'”
When artists ask people if they can paint on their homes, they often agree, she said, because it prevents this other kind of graffiti that covers the city.
We spent the day looking at the city and the communities we rode through this way. Driving past the vibrant colors, and diverse shapes. Just a little extra taste of the individual experiences of these artists in Buenos Aires. And maybe, more than that, just having fun and finding new pieces that made us smile. After all, some of the pieces were meant to do just that, make people happy, be beautiful and bring new life to an already colorful city.
These are just a few of my favorite tags and pieces from our tour.