Graffiti artists don’t normally get invited in for coffee when they visit the suburbs but U.K. artist Fin DAC isn’t your average spray can vandal and Bogota’s Altos de Cazuca neighborhood is light years from wherever you are from.
Like other famous pioneers of the graffiti scene, Banksy, Os Gemelos and Shepard Fairey, Fin DAC knows a thing or two about being on the back end of a bad rep’ and working hard to change people’s misplaced perceptions. It’s one of the reasons he hit it off instantly with Colombia.
Much maligned and with a point to prove, Fin and the neglected kids of Altos de Cazuca seemed like a match made in spray can heaven. English-language website This Is Cartagena thought so anyway.
Teaming up with Tiempo de Juego, the brainchild of Andres Wiesner, the socially conscious online travel guide opened its mission to bring a little color to one of Colombia’s most deprived neighborhoods with an inspirational Radamel Falcao on the sporting foundation’s new HQ.
Wiesner, a TV producer who inspired his former employer Guillermo “Pirry” Prieto, to push every Sunday for a “revolution of the small things,” now works with more than a thousand children in Cartagena and Bogota to give them hope through his program of “soccer for peace.”
In Bogota alone his foundation inspires more than 700 children a week urging them to dream of and work towards “a more optimistic reality” while helping reduce their exposure to the dangers of life in one of the Colombian capital’s most marginalized communities.
Colombia may be going through a healthy resurgence in tourism drawing 1.6 million foreign visitors a year to the colonial charms of Cartagena, San Augustin or La Candelaria in Bogota but the tourist dollars haven’t made it to Altos de Cazuca quite yet.
Described by Doctors Without Borders as a “belt of misery and exclusion,” it suffers from the problems that plague too many of Colombia’s neglected “barrios” – gangs, drugs and violence.
During seven years working in Altos de Cazuca and Santa Rita, Cartagena, the foundation has become involved in other areas like the arts, baking and “voluntourism” as it tries to create concrete job opportunities for the children graduating from its program.
“What better symbolizes the possibilities in this country than the phenomenal Radamel Falcao?” says Wiesner. “It doesn’t hurt for the children to dream of being Falcao, especially if it helps them escape the difficulties of life in Cazcuca.”
Taking a local view of tourism and accentuating the positive impact travel can have on local communities the online guide This is Cartagena is pushing for its own “revolution of the small things.”
“Getting Fin involved was easy. He immediately identified with the project to bring some colour to the lives of 700 kids who don’t get many breaks in life,” says David Bushell, co-founder of This is Cartagena. “Travel should leave more than just a dirty carbon footprint behind and we believe that individually we can all help make the world a better place. Being able to bring someone like Fin DAC to Bogota and Cartagena and raise awareness about the great work by organizations like Tiempo de Juego is part of that mission.”
To the soundtrack of the aspiring local hip-hop artist Gabriel Castillo, one half of the rap duo Gitanoz, Fin and 20 of the foundation’s children armed with 30 cans of spray paint tore into Tiempo de Juego’s new HQ with inspirational results.
“El gringo sabe,” (the gringo knows what he’s doing!) the locals uttered in approval as they offered him yet another “tinto” (small coffee) and their kids threw themselves into painting walls and anything else to hand – shoes, shirts, bags – with gusto.
“I got in to street art because it gave me something to live for,” says Fin. “I used it to drag myself up and make myself a better person. It if worked for me it can work for others too.”
To prove that inspiration doesn’t have to be a one-way street, Fin admits to having his eyes opened by his busman’s holiday in Bogota.
“Everyone tells you how dangerous Colombia is but it’s only when you feel at first hand the generosity of its people that you can appreciate how misunderstood this country really is,” he says. “They celebrate life in a way that will always stay with me.”
But it’s not just the good memories that he took back with him to the U.K. as a souvenir. Like many who visit Colombia he’s been converted into an ambassador for the country’s unique charms. Armed with his spray cans, Fin has discovered a very special way of exporting Colombian happiness to the rest of the world.
Smuggling the faces of a handful of lucky Colombians back to his studio in South-East London they will very soon be immortalized in new works, carved carefully into his larger than life-sized stencils and painted three metres high on the walls of Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. Watch this face!