Most major cities around the world have some sort of a street art scene – not just random graffiti tags, but crafted pieces of art that happen to exist outdoors in public spaces. In Bogotá, the street art scene is on fire. Colombian artists have been invited to create street art around the world and participate in major gallery exhibitions and the vibrant art on display around the country’s capital (one estimate puts the total number of major works of street art in the city at more than 5,000) runs the gamut from playful to political to the sort of public art that defies pigeonholing. We really got into the street art in Bogotá as you can see in the 49 images in this post (the most we’ve ever included in a single post). We think our Bogotá Street Art 101 primer will get you hooked too.
This friendly frog, artist unknown, welcomes you to the world of street art in Bogotá!
Bogotá street art, from maligned to mainstream
Street art wasn’t always a legit part of the city’s landscape. Despite the fact that major Colombian companies like Bogtoa Beer Company were commissioning street artists to create original artwork and logos for them (like the image below), the public and the police were not quite as enthusiastic about the emerging subculture.
This logo, created by street artists, was commissioned by Bogotá Beer Company.
In 2011, young graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot in the back by police while painting. Police then tried to say the artist was shot in self-defense while he was trying to rob a bus. Tensions rose (even the United Nations condemned the farce) and a forum was created to bring street artists and law enforcement officials together to figure out a way to coexist. Today, street art is legal in Bogotá where city officials and artists don’t just co-exist, they collaborate.
In 2014, artist Ricardo Zokos won the annual street art competition put on by the city of Bogotá and he was given this wall and the materials needed to create this massive work of art.
Every year the city of Bogotá holds a street art competition and the winner is granted a massive space and the materials needed to turn it into a canvas for his or her vision. The winner in 2014 was an artists named Ricardo Zokos who used a cherry picker and gallons and gallons of paint to create the work above. It’s 75 feet (22 meters) high by 130 feet (40 meters) wide.
The street artists that work as Vertigo Graffiti were hired to create this wall in the bar of the W Hotel in Bogotá.
When the W Hotel opened in Bogotá 2015, they got on the street art bandwagon too, commissioning the artists at Vertigo Graffiti to paint an entire wall in the hotel bar. Over the course of two full nights of work, Vertigo artists Zas, Ospen, Cazdos, Ecksuno, DexS and Fish created the mural, above, for the hotel.
Normal, every day buildings like apartments and hostels in Bogotá routinely incorporate the work of street artists.
How to see the street art: graffiti tours in Bogotá
Love it or hate it, these days the street art scene in Bogotá is an integral part of the city. As the usual “but is it art?” debate rages, more and more guided tours of the city’s street art are being offered. After a visit to the city’s excellent Gold Museum, taking a graffiti tour is probably the second most popular activity in the capital. We took two different Bogotá street art tours.
An Australian street artist known as Crisp lives in Bogotá, creates this art and stared the city’s very first guided graffiti tour.
The Bogotá Graffiti Tour was the first street art tour offered in the city. It was created by Australian artist Christian Peterson, who now lives in Bogota where he signs his street art as Crisp. His company still takes people on 2. 5 hour guided walking tours past fantastic examples of the city’s street art (free, but donations are aggressively encouraged). Tours are lead by English speaking guides who are graffiti artists themselves, including Crisp. It provides a good overview of the main players and main motivators behind street art found in the La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá, which is the area where the city was originally founded and is now hipster central.
Veteran Bogotá street artist David Niño (aka Koch1no) guided us around some of the city’s best works. Here he’s standing in front of one of his own pieces. He calls the little character in the lower right hand corner of the work a “space bunny” and it appears in all of his pieces.
We also took a tour organized by tour company called 5 Bogotá. The tour was lead by Colombian artist Koch1no (aka David Niño) and we departed from a shop called Visaje Graffiti Colombia which was opened to showcase and sell items designed by city artists. For a few hours Koch1no, who’s been doing street art for more than a decade, lead us through various areas of the city expertly and enthusiastically explaining the work we were walking past including who made the art, what it was meant to represent, what the inspiration was and more. It was a fun and informative tour and we were sorry to see it end.
The tour company no longer offers that exact tour but they’re about to launch a brand new graffiti experience. For US$35 per person, guests will be taken to the A Tres Manos studio where artists will help them create their own piece of art (all materials provided). That tour will be available to book through 5 Bogotá starting on April 1, 2016.
Bogotá street art: DJ Lu
This Colombian artist, who is also a trained architect and a professor, has been decorating the city since 2004. You can’t swing a cat in the capital without hitting one of his pieces which is often signed as Juegasiempre. He often uses stencils made from photographs of homeless people, including Marco Tulio Sevillano, a homeless man who was burned to death. Keep a keen eye out for other DJ Lu iconography including pineapples as hand grenades, dollar signs incorporating guns, and insects as weapons.
A classic piece from DJ Lu.
A classic piece from DJ Lu.
This piece is a collaboration between DJ Lu and the Toxicomano collective which contributed the woman with camera imagery on the left.
This piece is a collaboration between DJ Lu ad Pez, a Spanish artist now living in Bogotá, who contributed the funky flyers.
Bogotá street art: Bastardilla
Bastardilla is one of the most prominent female street artists in Bogotá, but there’s still not a lot of information out there about the secretive painter. What is clear is her focus on women’s rights, the struggle to end violence against women and the need for increased respect for the crucial role women and women’s work play in the future of Latin America. She reportedly sometimes sends her work with friends when they travel abroad and asks them to paste her art up in cities around the world. Plus, she’s got one of the coolest names out there.
Bastardilla did this work with Gris One. The bird in the middle is hers.
This is a piece done by Bastardilla.
Another piece by Bastardilla.
Bogotá street art: Toxicomano
Work signed by Toxicomano is produced by a prolific collection of artists. The most distinctive style of their work is done in stencil and involves a lot of black and white and often features a mohawk-sporting character named Eddie, though other styles emerge like the blue pig decorated with a map of the world, below. The work of this collective is extremely popular and more and more businesses are commissioning Toxicomano to decorate their shops.
Classic work from a collection of artists known as Toxicomano involves a graphic, stenciled, largely black and white look and the face of Eddie.
The Toxicomano collective of artists is often commissioned to decorate businesses in Bogotá, like this tattoo shop.
We love this Toxicomano pig decorated with a map of the world.
Bogotá street art: Lesivo
Lesivo, aka Diego Chavez, also frequently works on large murals with DJ Lu and Toxicomano. His work is marked by a startled, skull-like quality to faces and heads that smacks of suddenly shattered innocence.
Street art by Lesivo in Bogotá, Colombia.
Street art by Lesivo in Bogotá, Colombia.
Bogotá street art: Ledania
Ledania is based in Bogotá where she creates distinctive work with bold colors and complex graphics around themes that have been called mythological.
Colombian street artist Ledania transformed this wall with her fantastical style.
This is a good example of the bold colors and graphics that form part of Ledania’s style.
Bogotá street art: Guache
This Colombian artist, who has exhibited his work across Europe, returns to homegrown imagery of the plants, animals and indigenous cultures of Colombia. No color is too bright and Guache’s work is a technicolor celebration of Colombia’s heart and soul and a wake up call about the threats they face.
The doves in this work by Guache are holding banners that read Social Justice and Freedom and Peace.
Another mesmerizing piece by Guache.
Bogotá street art: Stinkfish
Stinkfish is possibly the most internationally well-known Colombian street artist at the moment with canvases selling in galleries around the world for thousands of dollars. His art is marked by stencils he makes of faces from photographs he finds or takes himself. He then elaborates on the images with graphics and intense colors. In addition to his solo work, Stinkfish has an art crew called APC (Animal Poder Cultura/Animal Power Culture).
You really can’t miss a Stinkfish face.
Here’s a work by Stinkfish working with his APC crew.
Bogotá street art: Lik Mi
In addition to creating a body-centric street art style, the artist known as Lik Mi is also a jewelry designer. She’s said her fully nude paste ups are meant to counter the objectification of women and confront taboos about nudity.
These three pieces by Lik Mi give you a good sense of her focus on confronting taboos about nudity and making a point about the objectification of women.
Bogotá street art: Saga
Saga‘s solo work is marked by joyfully absurd oversize women and an olde timey dude who’s seriously creepy. Sometimes the artist works with another artist known as Crudo who adds distinctive lettering, giving the collaborative work a vaudeville poster look and feel.
The joyful absurdity of work by Saga.
This creepy but compelling character is courtesy of Saga.
Artists Saga and Crudo often team up in Bogotá.
Bogotá street art: Rodez
Rodez is a book publisher and street artist in his 50s and his work has a polished, gallery-ready look and feel. He is quite literally a father to street art. His sons, Nomada and Malegria, have followed him into the biz and they sometimes collaborate.
A whimsical, sophisticated piece by Rodez.
Bogotá street art: beyond the big names
Not everyone in the Bogotá street art scene is a star. Yet. Here are some pieces we liked by artists we know little or nothing about (if you know who did the pieces we can’t id, let us know in the comments section at the end of this post).
Based on a photo of a homeless couple kissing, this 115 high piece, called “El Beso de los Invisibles” (The Kiss of the Invisibles) was created by a co-ed team including Vertigo, Jade, Zas and MDC.
This work was created by Katze and Carsal Corrosivo.
MAL Crew did this work.
This wonderful portrait of a Kuna woman was done by Carlos Trilleras.
An Argentinean artist known as Praxis did this.
Peruvian artists Entes y Pesimo work together. This wall was done by Entes alongside the image below which was painted by Pesimo.
Peruvian artists Entes y Pesimo work together. This wall was done by Pesimo alongside the wall above which was painted by Entes.
This piece is called Monstrucation but we don’t know who created it.
The bike image on the left was done by an artist from Ecuador known as BLN Bike and the googly-eyed purple blob was done by an artist known as Perversa.
The ever-changing nature of Bogotá street art
One of the things that makes street art interesting is the ever-changing nature of the installations. The composite image, below, shows a wall outside the Visaje Graffiti Colombia store in Bogotá which we photographed on August 30, 2014 (top) and again on September 1, 2015 (bottom). What a difference a year (and some talent and some paint) makes.
Never enough street art
For more about street art, check out the Google Culture Institute Street Art Project and watch the trailer for a graffiti documentary called Este Territorio es Nuestro (This Territory is Ours).