I traveled to Buenos Aires on Tuesday night after a long work day. I was tired, miserably so, but at least I didn’t have to pack luggage or wait in an interminable line at Dulles Airport. I just clicked a link to connect me to my virtual AirBnb experience via Zoom—Discover Street Art & Grafitti in Buenos Aires (BA).
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AirBnb Virtual Tour
My guide, a designer and curator who is also trapped inside her residence due to stay-in-home orders, is so knowledgeable about the history of street art. Her name is Flor. She lives in Palermo (a neighborhood famous for its urban art) and is now working on her thesis for her masters on the relationship between art and fashion design. Her favorite graffiti artist is Banksy—“he is just so great!!!!” Locally her favorite artists include Christian Riffel, Darío Koronda, Nasa and Nase Pop (who was born in Holland but lives in BA).
Dario Koronda (Photo Credit: Da Valle PH)
I tell her that I visited Buenos Aires in a whirlwind work trip in November 2018. I did an 7-hour BuenosTours guided walk examining the city’s architecture, including visiting the Recoleta Cemetery. But I missed seeing BA neighborhoods famous for street art—Saavedra, Coghlan, Colegiales and Palermo.
Street Art in Buenos Aires
On my virtual Street Art tour, I meet two other American women hailing from Denver and Philadelphia. We are all searching for distraction, creativity and fun. And anyone who goes seeking street art in any city in the world knows that this “give-the-people Art” as a form of civil disobedience is earth shaking.
This is only my second AirBnb experience during the pandemic. But a shared love in a topic is a natural way to help people connect. Somehow an university professor in Colorado combined with a therapist in a Philadelphia and a journalist in Washington DC (me) can result in an instant bond.
Flor tells me that I have a natural talent to bring people together and make them feel as friends. I think stay-at-home orders has made even the shy and introverted eager for a chance to talk. And art has the power to connect people through our emotional response.
Ba Paste Up (Photo Credit: Da Valle PH)
Global Street Art Tour
Flor takes us on a wide ranging virtual tour from her home in Palermo to the streets of England and France plus cave man sites. All we have to do is sit and watch the world of urban art brought to us. She explains to us that Buenos Aires is famous in Latin America for its street artists.
Flor discovered her passion when working in Palermo—“I loved coming here every day to this lovely colorful neighborhood. I started seeing the murals around in some shops and I remembered that Agatha Ruiz de La Prada came to do a presentation in Buenos Aires and she donated a mural that is still there that has her distinctive style. I happened to attend the inaugural event in one of my lunch breaks justby chance!”
I put just by chance in italics because I think part of urban art’s appeal is we often discover it by chance. Suddenly we turn a corner in a city or town we are visiting on a vacation and we stop dead in our tracks. A larger-than-life painting transforms a brick wall into a message about love, life and often revolution. The artist shouts at us without ever opening his/her mouth. He/she only requires a paint brush, a stencil and an aerosol spray paint can.
Whether it’s political or within the art industry, inspiring change is what graffiti does best. Giving an artistic voice to those who may not have had the opportunity or desire to attend a prestigious art school, it’s a vehicle of expression for all, for the oppressed and disillusioned.—Vogue
Revolution of course defines BA’s culture. When I visited in November 2018, nurses were on strike. A raucous parade snaked down Avenue de Mayo, the broad avenue outside my residence where I stayed. Shouts and music struck a chord about the people’s anger.
I ask Flor what makes BA a natural city for urban art? She explained:
“Buenos Aires has a rich culture that is coming from our mixed roots, the immigrations, the relation with Europe, but at the same time there is the fact that we are so far away!!! I don’t know why but Argentinians love to travel and connect with other cultures. I think it’s probably this thing of being at the end of the world that we don’t want to miss anything; but at the same time we have had so many crisis that people have to create from nowhere, which really helped to improve our creativity! The 60´s were a great moment in our art history; artists were doing incredible things, being so innovative, but after that came the dictatorships…. so I believe that street artists are bringing back that joy and creativity that was so natural in the sixties. (You can google Marta Minujin, an artist from that time that keeps creating!) So I think Buenos Aires as a cultural hub it was expected to be taking the ‘trend’ of street art but the truth is most of the artists working in the streets they are really talented and have a background in art or design.”
Mart-aire (Photo by Da Valle PH)
The joy certainly reflects in the urban art that she features in her virtual guided tour of BA’s urban art. “I chose the ones that I felt more engaged with, the ones I knew the artists or had a connection with them and that I particularly like or touched me in some way,” explains Flor.
Christian Riffel (Photo by Da Valle PH)
It seems natural that she would be found perched on a ladder in Palermo painting a brick wall. But she confides she is not an artist now but “I wish one day! I think I will do phrases or smiley faces lol.”
Since Flor has led walking tours as an AirBnb guide, she decided to take the plunge and sign on as a guide for an AirBnb experience. She confessed to worrying that people wouldn’t be interested in just seeing her photos.
“You know how important is our body presence for street art, the connection with the artwork. So I came up with the idea of the drawing exercise at the end to have a ‘connection moment’ because I thought that the class alone could be a bit cold, if you know what I mean. I like teaching a lot and I used to teach a short course in modern and contemporary art a few years ago that I loved, the students I had were so lovely and kind, actually one of them ended up being a good friend! So I was missing that course and the connection with people. I was amazed to discover how warm the people are in the online experiences. I think this isolation that we are living are really making us more friendly. It’s incredible; I’m loving this!”
And I loved the aura around Flor as I studied her and the urban art from my iPad. Thousands of miles away yet only inches from my view, Flor wove a spell of the power of street art to connect us. But I also saw the power of the human spirit to triumph during this pandemic. To laugh, to learn, to love … by making new friends if only virtually.
Our creative assignment was to draw simple stick figures holding up a heart. Each of us was instructed to bring black, yellow and red magic markers, paper and pencil. The inspiration for the drawing of the heart is artist Keith Haring. Flor said he is one of her favorites too!-“I liked how he made his art available for everyone. He was one of the firsts that started to do products with his art. I found that so inspiring!” Below is my masterpiece … lol!
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