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Fighting social injustice with graffiti

Camilo Fidel López is using graffiti to fight social injustice in his home city of Bogotá and around the world.

Before travelling to Colombia in 2017, I found that many people were surprised at my decision to go there. This comes from a persisting stigma surrounding the country’s negative political reputation making it a slightly more gonzo style destination for the average traveller. Walking through Bogotá when I arrived, however, I was met with vibrance, diversity and a plethora of self-expression, the combination of which comes to life in the form of stunning graffiti that lines the city’s walls.

Camilo Fidel López is partly to thank – an entrepreneur who has made it his mission to tackle social injustice with colour and art. Not actually a street artist himself, but a law graduate and professor, López channelled his strong passion for fighting injustice into a business aiming to spark a social revolution. Vértigo Graffiti, which he founded almost a decade ago, is a project designed to transform old perceptions of Colombia and draw in more visitors, a cultural renaissance that’s bringing people together.

‘Before I moved here three years ago, I had had the same misconception as many others, that Colombia was a country of mustachioed coffee farmers and drug lords,’ said Mark Bingle, general manager of the Four Seasons Casa Medina in Bogota, for which López now leads graffiti tours. ‘López has opened my eyes to the new Colombia. Going around, one sees that Bogotá’s walls are like a living, breathing museum of modern history.’

Bogotá has become one of the world’s leading graffiti destinations, reflecting Colombia’s new face of self-expression and pride. The practice has been legal there since 2011 when police murdered 16-year-old Diego Felipe Becerra while he was painting his signature tag. The government’s decision to downgrade graffiti from crime, to violation, to ultimately condoned in certain areas, was as a result of public outrage towards this.

Eight years later, locals are embracing the change, viewing graffiti as a way of mending relationships between the establishment and Colombia’s younger generation. As a regulated art form, it’s no longer viewed as an act of defiance, but as a way to bring communities together and a legitimate form of artistic expression that portrays the city’s rich yet tumultuous culture.

This refreshing approach means that creative minds are free to tell their stories, and ‘the lack of fear over being jailed or chased over our work allows artists to focus on longer and larger projects that have greater meaning and value for the community,’ says CRISP, a graffiti artist in Bogotá. Seeing empty walls as blank canvases, and an opportunity to spread awareness of his message, López tasks his crew with transforming city landscapes and ‘starting conversations’.

Since 2017, when Vértigo revamped Puente Aranda, one of the dirtiest and most polluted areas of Bogotá – turning it into what is now the city’s extremely popular graffiti district – the project has traversed the globe. Most recently, they painted a wall of the Halis Kurtca children’s cultural centre in Istanbul to commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Turkey.

‘I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago that graffiti, which began as a protest against all things establishment, would not be used to symbolise links between two governments,’ says López.

The Colombian street art scene is proof that graffiti can make a truly valuable social statement and López hopes that in the future it will become recognised as a high art ‘like opera, ballet, and theatre.’ This country has benefitted so greatly from its presence and I have no doubt that this is just the beginning as graffiti continues to breathe life into communities around the world, reviving cities and filling areas with contagious, buoyant optimism for decades to come.


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