Italian graffiti artist Assi-One, whose designs have adorned walls in 25 countries, has been in Bogota since he was invited to a stencil street art festival three months ago. “Right now, Bogota is the center of street art. There’s a lot and it’s good quality. This is Bogota’s moment.” He is part of a growing movement of international graffiti artists coming to Bogota to explore its expanding street art scene.
Assi-One compares the scene here to that of his native continent. “In Europe, you can’t draw graffiti, because they’ve become too bourgeois over there. A kid there paints one picture and expects to immediately make money and have exhibitions. Quality has gone way down over there, and they erase it all besides,” he complains.
The Italian artist estimates that there are twelve to fifteen excellent graffiti artists in Bogota, and says he is actively seeking talent to exhibit at a gallery in Berlin, where a Bogotano artist named Lesivo (“harmful”) recently took part in a collective street art exhibition. Assi-One also highlighted Stinky Fish, a Bogotano street artist who is currently working in Mexico after a receiving an invitation to make graffiti there.
Also noted by Assi-One is the range of techniques that Bogotanos use in their art, including the widespread use of stencils, a practice frowned upon in Europe due to a “stupid purity” that assumes only free-style techniques should be used. Relatively speaking, spray paint is more expensive in Colombia than in Europe, and this forces Colombian artists to combine use of the paint with other materials to make it last longer, and has the side effect of producing innovative graffiti designs which are “unthinkable” in Europe.
Alvaro Randazzo, sub-director of the Office of Property and Public Space, explained that for them, graffiti is a vehicle for cultural expression, and for that reason they support graffiti-related events. “When it’s a work of art, well-made, and with a meaningful message, it’s valid. It’s understood that it’s better to have kids doing graffiti than getting mixed-up with drugs. When they draw on walls just to draw and tag just to tag, we have visual pollution.”
Another factor working in graffiti artists’ favor is the law in Bogota, which treats graffiti as a violation, as opposed to countries in North America and Europe where graffiti is a crime that draws large fines and has specific police forces dedicated to its eradication. According to Gildardo Pico, sub-commanding officer in the Bogota police, to draw graffiti is not a crime, but only a violation of the police code. “When a person is found drawing graffiti, the police are forbidden to detain the artist. Nevertheless, authorities are authorized to force the artist to erase his work, leave the site as it was before the art, and pay for the damage done to the property to the owner if a police report is filed.”
Assi-One illustrates the permissive attitude of the police towards graffiti artists with a story: “A little while ago, we were painting in the morning in front of the Escuela Militar, and four policemen stopped by. They asked us, ‘Have you had any coffee yet this morning?’”