One of my favorite aspects of living in Latin America is the abundance of street art that adorns buildings, alleys and bridges, especially in the major cities.
On my recent visit to Lima, Peru, I made sure I booked a room in the rapidly gentrifying hipster neighborhood of Barranco which is ground zero for Lima’s street art scene. The largest collection of paintings can be found in the area around the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros) which has a reputation for being a popular place for young lovers to stroll.
Lima’s street art is particularly welcoming considering the city’s skies are perpetually gray for long stretches of the year. In addition, the city’s gray concrete walls and nondescript buildings make great canvases for creative street artists.
As is true of cities in Colombia and Ecuador, these colorful exterior scenes highlight each country’s ethnic diversity and native traditions as they merge with contemporary issues and international themes. Local artists–as well as the general population–love vibrant color and this is reflected in their art.
Since I believe the images speak for themselves, this introduction is brief. Enjoy this visual feast!
The Bridge of Sighs–Puente de los Suspiros.
Bridge of Sighs.
The Bridge of Sighs viewed from the opposite direction.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
I don’t recall the first time I heard Margaret Mead’s name, but it’s quite likely I read it on the pages of National Geographic magazine as a child in the early 1960s. I remember being glued to the television when Mead appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Even at that young age, I recognized that she was different from the other ‘celebrities’ the show normally hosted.
Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who focused her research on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. In both her personal and professional lives, Mead was a pioneering and controversial figure.
Just to prove the wisdom of the old adage ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same,’ I ran across some photos from an art show I had in Seattle back in 1995.
Pan Man: The Right Icon? 1995
The show was entitled “Pan Man: the Right Icon?” and featured a group of vaguely male-looking plaster casts covered in decorative bead work. Each of the 10 figures was graced with a large penis made from a variety of found objects ranging from pieces of rusted metal to a strange looking wood-working tool. The figures were inspired by a cartoon I did during the 1994 US midterm elections when Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans took control of Congress.
While many globetrotting travelers these days hurry from one megasite to another in their haste to check each off a ‘must see’ list that’s been compiled by someone else, many discerning travelers are ready to escape the crowds and delve into often over-looked and more remote historical gems in their search for a more authentic and unique travel experience.
One such site is the San Agustín Archaeological Park found deep in the montane rain forests (also known as cloud forest) of the southern Colombian Andes.
Pack snacks and don’t forget your worry beads
Just getting to San Agustín is half the fun. Well, that is if you have a keen sense of adventure and a durable backside.
Imagine my surprise when one of my Omani students told me that the walls of his entire village had been painted by a local street artist. “Really,” I exclaimed with glee! “I love street art!”
On the following weekend, I headed north from the port city of Sohar in a bid to capture on video whatever I found. What I discovered in a small fishing village just west of the slightly larger town of Liwa was much more than I had expected. The walls of the village were indeed covered in art—an assortment of male faces—from the walls immediately surrounding the local mosque all the way to the sea.
Francisco José de Caldas Park, with it’s ancient towering trees and floral gardens, has marked the heart of Popayán’s colonial era historic district for almost 500 years.
Detail of sculpture on the front facade of the Church of San Francisco. This beautiful church–see header image above–is one of the few buildings in the historic district that is painted a color other than white.
If American playwright Tennessee Williams had been born in Latin America, it surely would have been in southern Colombia’s former capital of Popayán. Walking the lonely streets of Popayán’s historic center after nightfall reminds me of discovering a forgotten antebellum town in the southern USA, albeit with Spanish Colonial architectural roots.
Old Town Popayán gets up early every morning and makes sure to put on just a bit of lipstick and rouge for the day, but by nightfall she has lost her energy so she walks slowly home, closes her shutters and abandons her streets to the happenstance traveler who is curious enough to seek out unique cultural experiences not too far off the well-trod tourist trail.
As a great lover of colorful urban landscapes, I’ve traveled to many of the world’s most noted cities for street art. Berlin and Athens are two that immediately spring to mind. After visiting Colombia’s thriving capital, Bogota, several times over the past year, I would definitely add this high-altitude city set against a background of dramatic Andean peaks to a list of the world’s most interesting street art locations.
Sadly, Bogota’s street art scene was both accelerated and legitimized by a tragedy–the police shooting of a young graffiti artist, Diego Felipe Becerra, in 2011. The protests that followed Diego’s death resulted in the setting aside of city-sanctioned areas for street artists to paint. Of course, as street artists by nature tend to rebel against the establishment, there’s now street art spread over large areas of the cityscape, although there are specific neighborhoods with significant clusters of walls painted by both local and internationally-recognized street artists.