Bogota graffiti artists reach understanding with leaders of Colombia capital

Posted on Mar 31 2014 - 9:35am by Rico

A week-long controversy in Bogota regarding the police-implemented cleaning of street art in the Colombian capital was resolved Sunday at a meeting between between graffiti artists and city leaders, reported national media.

Interim Mayor Rafael Pardo, accompanied by Bogota District Secretary of Culture Clarisa Ruiz and Commander of the Metropolitan Police General Edgar Sanchez, sat down with leaders of the local graffiti scene in the hope of reaching a mutual understanding regarding the widespread practice, which continues to exist in a vague legal flux.

Ruiz said the meaning was about “recognizing graffiti as one of the most developed cultural and artistic manifestations of the new century that it should not be seen as a situation of crime or disorder. That’s going to remain [our] focus, and Interim Mayor Rafael Pardo determined the same.”

Discussion was said to center in part on an event that occurred last Monday, when the Metropolitan Police painted over street art on Calle 26 with brown paint, prompting various artists to come to the Department of Culture and complain.

MORE: Bogota’s booming graffiti culture

Graffiti is not illegal in Bogota, where the artform has flourished in recent years, and the walls along Calle 26 are famous among local and international artists hoping to showcase their work. In August 2013, the city’s 475th anniversary celebrations saw five groups of internationally renowned artists decorate the street.

While painting over old work is common practice within graffiti culture, artists and collectives took umbrage at the city’s attempts to erase the art along Calle 26 entirely.

Though Interim Mayor Pardo initially stated he had only ordered the removal of art not officially sanctioned by the District, Police Commander General Edgar Sanchez acknowledged Sunday that the police charged with the task had overstepped their instructions. “The idea is to have a mutual understanding and mutual responsibility,” Sanchez said, following the meeting.

Tensions between the police and the city’s graffiti artists are nothing new, and have come to a head at various points within the past several years.

Last October, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, visiting the city as part of an international tour, was escorted, along with various hangers-on, by Bogota police officers on a nighttime graffiti session along Calle 26. The incident sparked renewed indignation regarding the fatal 2001 shooting of 16-year-old Diego Felipe, a young street artist shot in the back of the head by city police while painting near the scene Bieber and his posse were tagging.

The day after Bieber’s expedition, the signer’s artwork had been painted over by local artists, who staged a 24-hour protest that filled Calle 26 with hundreds of pieces.

MORE: Bogota Police assists Justin Bieber during nighttime graffiti outing

The movement spread throughout the country, to cities like Cali, Manizales and Medellin, where local collectives organized similar protest events.

MORE: Justin Bieber inspires wave of graffiti protests in Colombia 

Protesters hoped to called for an end to the stigmatization of graffiti and to the alleged persecution of artists by police forces.

Official policy in Bogota has taken significant strides in recent years toward legitimizing graffiti, though artists claim to suffer from ongoing abuse, and in some cases extortion, from police officers in certain parts of the city.

City officials did not specify if any formal terms were reached during their meeting, or if any changes have been made to police protocol regarding street art.


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