I love graffiti. Street art. Legal or illegal (with or without permission), I am happy to see artistic expression in spaces that would otherwise be blank or filled with commercial advertising. Of course I’m not talking about vandalistic magic marker scribbling, but rather true works of urban art. Chile has an impressive and particularly rich culture of urban art that stretches back for decades. Forget what New Yorkers have to say about subway graffiti in the 70s or hip hop in the 80s. Chile has a long tradition that not only tolerates, but even encourages, artistic expression in public places.
For months now I have been photographing graffiti whenever and wherever I can, and will get around to writing about and showing it here in Cachando Chile, but I had a pleasant surprise today that I just had to share.
A fire in 2006 destroyed one of the city’s most emblematic buildings, Diego Portales, on Alameda, downtown, next to the Universidad Católica Metro Station. It was a dark and dreary eyesore with significant social history, although for years I thought it was a parking garage. It was even more miserable as the blackened shell that stood for years before its fate was defined. It is now under construction and will be reborn as the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center.
And even though the inaugural date is still off in the future, the building is already marking its cultural destiny. Through an initiative of the Ministry of Culture, the wall that blocks the property along Alameda (Santiago’s main street) is now painted with an enormous 300m2 mural that represents Chile from north to south.
The 3-part project began with artistic workshops in 15 marginal neighborhoods. Part 2 included workshops related to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera exhibit in the La Moneda Cultural Center, and the final step was to have the groups paint their interpretations of what Chile is to them. All the symbols are there, from llamas in the north, to the penguins in the south, and, of course, the dogs on the streets of Santiago in the middle! There are herdsmen, fishermen, chinchineros, organ grinders, fruit peddlers, dancers, poets, warriors, Mapuche women, and condors. There are mountains and oceans, deserts and ice fields, countryside and big cities. A bit of everything in one long, narrow strip–just like Chile.
For more examples of Chilean graf: