Graffiti as Social Commentary in Temuco, Chile

Guest post by Marmo, April 2011

Graffiti in Temuco, Chile, by Marmo ©2011Cachando Chile readers know I love graffiti–good graf–and spend a lot of time photographing it. Today we have a guest post from Marmo–a long-time Cachando Chile friend who lives in Temuco and who took up the cause, his camera and a pen to share a bit of the Temuco graf scene. Thanks Marmo!

Whenever I see graffiti on different blogs, I wonder what the painters wanted to say or show with their images. It’s not only about the artist’s abilities, but sometimes it’s also about how much the paintings unintentionally say about the environment or artist’s feelings. Choosing one image or another not only tells what the artist wants to express in a direct, metaphoric or even cryptic way, but it also provides some context about the city or place where the graffiti was painted.

Graffiti in Temuco, Chile: Tags (Photo by Marmo, 2011)

Here an example of those nasty doodles that appear everywhere-a fully scratched window, fully covered with nonsense, while to the right side of the picture, a steroid-abused version of these urban autographs can be seen.

From its beginnings, this form of expression was constructed as an unofficial, rebellious, and even aggressive way of translating ideas into images in places where a lot of people could see and even interact with them, by responding with new graffiti or other forms of expression.

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (photo by Marmo, 2011)

This one, about birds, was painted just the night before I took this picture; I hope they can finish it soon, before the zinc wall is removed.

Long, LONG before Facebook or Twitter, from maybe thousands of years ago, urban graffiti became an effective vehicle to express ideas that couldn’t or shouldn’t appear in official media. I have never seen graffiti that addresses ideas discussed on irrelevant TV shows; they very often try to be the expression of those who can’t express themselves or those who live on the outer edges of our social system. Temuco, in southern Chile, is a good example of this. Temuco is a city in permanent conflict for several reasons, such as centralism, the Mapuche conflict, and poverty. You can always feel a sentiment of struggle, vindication, the search for justice, or repressed expression in the air.

Graffiti in Temuco, Chile (photo by Marmo 2011)

This powerful image doesn’t require any major explanation about its message against violence. In this case, a masked man, against an indigenous woman...

I’ve seen graffiti in other Chilean cities, and some had no more reason to exist than being nice pictures or showing how talented the painters were. Temuco is different. I spent the past few days looking for and at graffiti in this city, and I realized that almost all of it was used to convey ideas and show some of the issues that confront the entire city.

Like anywhere else, there are also those who try desperately to cover any wall with black or red scribbles and signatures, and there are also a lot of lines and short messages about protests, the freedom of some Mapuche detainee, or the abuse of some local authority.

In its more elaborate form, which is graffiti I was looking for, I also noted a feeling of social unrest. Almost all of it had some kind of social message that was easy to understand and that left you with something to think about if you gave it enough time and attention.

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (photo by Marmo 2011)

This one used to show some Mapuche living peacefully in the country, but was covered by a layer of paint and then by a lot of these stupid lines that only those who made them care about. The only part that survived was the smiling face with her vegetation wig...

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (photo by Marmo 2011)

The wall continues with a police dog, like those used by Carabineros (police) to stop protests, coming from the highway towards the fields...

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (Photo by Marmo, 2011)

...to finally show the fear in the face of a child, the main victims of this kind of violence between Mapuches and Carabineros.

And here with environmental theme.

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (Photo by Marmo, 2011)

Here, still in process of painting, we can see some of the effects of the Celco Industrial Plant over the Cruces River, and its mouth in Mehuin, a small fishing town...

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (Photo by Marmo, 2011)

...until it shows clearly who are they talking about. We can unmistakably read "Celco" in the top right of the picture.

And more indigenous issues…

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (Photo by Marmo, 2011)

...showing again those who appear to suffer the consequences, the Mapuches.

Graffiti from Temuco, Chile (Photo by Marmo, 2011)

Emiliano Zapata

Emiliano Zapata’s skeleton was a little hard to understand image in this context at first, but on second thought, Zapata used to command the Ejército del Sur (Southern Army) in the revolutionary history of Mexico, so, maybe it appears as a suggestion to make use of force or violence against the abuse some of these corporations do against people and environment.

As I could see, in Temuco graffiti is more than just nice paintings, much of it is really worth the time to cross the street for a closer look. There is much more than I could take pictures of, but I hope some of you can see it  with your own eyes someday if you come to southern Chile, where it show a small and often ignored cultural aspect of our cities.

Marmo is half of the duo behind the Marmotitas blog.

Want to see more Chilean graffiti? Click on “Graffiti” in the Category Listing (in the right-hand column).

19 responses to “Graffiti as Social Commentary in Temuco, Chile

  1. Very nice post and commentary. I agree, very powerful images, and one can understand much about Chile if you try to understand the graffiti. or maybe, once you understand Chile, you can better understand the graffiti.

  2. Very nice graffiti murals, thanks for sharing.

  3. @Laura-So true–and just the point that Marmo was making-graffiti is yet another clue to cultural understanding. It would be very interesting to see a cross-cultural study of graffiti around the world!
    @Fresh Paint- thanks for stopping by. I clicked around your site too- very interesting, but I didn’t see a mention of where you’re based.

  4. Thank you Margaret! For letting me show a small part of my beloved Temuco city.
    These grafiti, and others around town, capture in a unique way the social climate we live in. I hadn´t noticed before, but they seem to be like traces of the city spirit.

  5. In my opinion, the examples that Marmo shows are not graffiti, but anonymous street art: well done and meaningful. For me, graffiti is those meaningless, ugly doodles you see all over Santiago.

    Congratulations, Marmo, for your work.

  6. @Marmo- Thank YOU! I really appreciate your contribution and am happy to learn more about areas outside of central Chile! I also wanted to provide a link to the Temuco-based group you mentioned to me: Alapinta http://alapintacrew.blogspot.com/2009/03/mixtylegraffiti-temuco.html
    They’re doing some very interesting stuff!

    @Raúl- it’s all graffiti. Unfortunately the tags that pop up everywhere and that add nothing to the urban landscape give the entire street art genre a bad name.

  7. @Margaret That´s it! Alapinta was an unexpected discovery in this little research, here´s their flicker:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alapintacrew
    Their work can be found in Temuco and other towns near.
    @Raúl thank you!

  8. @ Marmo “traces of the city spirit” Nicely said.

  9. Well, well, that was a nice piece of work Marmo. And kudos to Margaret for the “guest blog” idea. I often just browse through a blog (not yours Margaret!), but I really savoured this one. In civil, clean Japan graffito is rarely seen, but this piece by Marmo has opened my eyes, literally and figuratively, and I will look harder the next time I cycle around the city. Thanks Marmo and Margaret.
    John

  10. Very interesting! Just forwarded it to a friend in China.

  11. @John M- thanks, but the guest blog concept isn’t mine–it’s been around a long time–and in this case even the initiative was Marmo’s. He knows how much I like graffiti and offered to do the post, which is especially appreciated as it gives Cachando Chile readers a bit of a view of southern Chile!

    @Carmen-thank you for passing this on. I wonder–is there any graffiti in China? Would love to see some!

  12. I love this!!!!

  13. Pingback: Chile graffiti | Acapura

  14. graffiti is not art it is narcacism. It is the modern parallel to the Broken Windows Theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory and graffiti does lead to a feeling that government cannot function or provide for society, lowering the level of community development – no matter how pretty the images may be. My philosophy towards graffiti is simple:

    please kindly refrain from writing on my house

  15. @Lek: I agree with you. Graffiti, especially on private property, is like a violent assault on the civil society. What comes next? Broken windows, petty theft, and coarse behavior and assaults?

  16. Temuco is one of the most beautiful city and it is a great tourist destination. On my last trip I really enjoyed there with my family. Thanks for refreshing my memories.

  17. te has preguntado como empezaron estos artistas de estos graffitis o murales?.con todas aquellas rayas q hay,es parte del proceso,

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