Si Me Ren: The Colors of Valparaiso

In a city where graffiti is illegal, it is also an art form? Yeah, welcome to Chile.

Specifically, to Valparaiso, where the walls are covered with murals and gang tags. It is illegal to write on walls in the city, but if a building owner wants his wall decorated, up and coming artists vie for the exposure. Some are instantly recognizable for their signature art elements (hummingbirds, dolls, patchworks, etc.). Others are trying to break into the bohemian art scene that thrives here, so they offer to paint for the cost of materials.

Property owners want their walls done in order to avoid gang graffiti, because gangs respect the artists. So, get your walls colorful, before somebody else does. Here are some of the great pieces we saw today on our walking tour, guided by the lovely Ignatio (red striped shirt):

Chile Valparaiso 015

Some murals are placed so that you can only see them from certain hilltops or buildings. The one above is the most famous of the Hidden Murals.Chile Valparaiso 021

Our guide Ignatio explaining the left-to-right mural, which displays Northern Andean culture on the left, and the Mapichu Southern culture on the right.Chile Valparaiso 022 Chile Valparaiso 023 Chile Valparaiso 032

There were cats in a lot of the murals and graffiti.Chile Valparaiso 038 Chile Valparaiso 039

But I did find an owl for Kelley.Chile Valparaiso 048

Graffiti is actually illegal in Chile, so the people who own buildings have to invite mural artists to paint on them. They do this to avoid gang graffiti like that shown in the signatures here. Those are “tags” or attacks. Gangs tend to respect the art installments, and building owners don’t want their place covered in stuff like that, so they let artist cover them instead. Up-and-coming muralists work for the price of their paint, until they get known in this Bohemian Paradise.Chile Valparaiso 049 Chile Valparaiso 050 Chile Valparaiso 055

And once an artists gets known, he, or she, or they, get invited to do a great big place like this for a lot of money. (This one depicts winter into spring.)Chile Valparaiso 057 Chile Valparaiso 060 Chile Valparaiso 061 Chile Valparaiso 066

^Well, that clears that up. (It says, “You are here.”)Chile Valparaiso 067 Chile Valparaiso 069

Fisherman are always painted with stigmata or cuts, to show the troubles in the industry. It’s a signature of the local art form.Chile Valparaiso 070 Chile Valparaiso 071

The last one isn’t graffiti only, but also the wooden horse in the yard where we ate pizzas our first night here. The graffiti artist who did this place also did the horse. Please note toilet in lower right of photo. I feel trendy. :] (For those who haven’t seen it, our bookstore has a toilet on the front lawn with flowers growing out of it.)Chile Valparaiso 072

2 thoughts on “Si Me Ren: The Colors of Valparaiso

  1. We did the same thing back in the 1980s and 90s in our local playground on West 46th Street, NYC. The artist we worked with did the painting for the cost of materials and perhaps a small honorarium (a drink from the corner bodega, for instance).

    • It’s really cool – and funny that a town so famous for its graffiti and murals considers the art form illegal. Our guide told us a funny (in the aftermath) story of a tourist in his group who wrote his name on the wall and was promptly arrested and about to be deported before the guide talked very fast for 20 minutes and got him off the hook.

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