Bogotá is one of those cities that surprised me.
It’s traditionally been overlooked by travelers until recently, but more and more people are discovering the city for the jewel it is. I had lived in Colombia for over a year before I explored Bogotá, and I immediately regretted not spending more time there.
What surprised me most about the city was its vibrant and diverse art scene; in one day I experienced three distinct and diverse art experiences: graffiti and street art in La Candelaria, Pre-Hispanic artifacts and indigenous textile art at Museo del Oro, and paintings and sculptures by one of Latin America’s most famous artists – Fernando Botero.
As I wandered through Bogotá’s historic La Candelaria neighborhood for the first time, I found a powerful and new graffiti mural created by Colombian and international graffiti artists alike around every corner.
Despite Colombia’s sometimes struggle to redefine its violent reputation, art prevails – sometimes in response to conflict, but more often, in spite of it. No where is this more true or inspiring than in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá.
In 2011, young graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed by the police while working on a mural near an underpass. After the tragedy, public outcry resulted in the then mayor of Bogotá decriminalizing graffiti and street art.
Bogotá’s popular Graffiti Tour takes travelers to some of the best street art in the city and not only explains who created each piece but also includes the context to understanding the social and political messages. In an interview with The Guardian, Australian artist and one of the founders of the Graffiti Tour, Crisp, helps explain the explosion of graffiti in Bogotá: “Visiting artists can’t believe how liberal the scene is here.
It’s a unique situation. It’s becoming something of an international mecca for street artists.” And it’s not the only aspect of Bogotá’s art scene that represents typically underrepresented points of view.
Next on my art itinerary was the famous Museo del Oro, or Gold Museum. The three stories of more than 55,000 pre-Hispanic artifacts will not only leave you in awe, but it will also leave you mourning for all of the pieces that were stolen and melted down by conquistadors.
The skill and intricacy of each piece left me in awe. Indigenous voices are too often underrepresented in the mainstream art world, but what I loved most about the Gold Museum was how those voices were showcased and uplifted.
And a perfect example of this is the Museum’s new exhibit, “Capas de Sabiduría” (Layers of Wisdom), on display from September 2016 to June 2017.
(Photos courtesy of Museo del Oro)
The female Gunadule community, who currently mostly live in Panama but originated in Colombia, have been creating molas for centuries. Molas are small pieces of textile art that are typically worn across the chest.
The fabric is cut and sewn into layered and intricate designs. Each mola represents the women’s cultural experiences, perspectives, and history. Their purpose is both storytelling and protection, and the art is passed down to daughters from mothers and grandmothers.
For centuries, the typically female “crafts” were excluded from art and museums, so to see an entire exhibit in Bogotá’s most popular and renowned museum was an inspiration.
My last stop of the day was the Botero Museum (which by the way, is free!).
Fernando Botero is Colombia’s most famous modern artist. His easily identifiable sculptures and paintings feature voluminous characters and objects. Botero was born in Medellín in 1932. His father was a salesman, and his mother was a seamstress.
Tragically, his father died of a heart attack when he was only four years old. Botero says he “didn’t even know this thing called art existed until he found a book of modern art at the age of 15.” And in spite of his challenges growing up in poverty, he went on to become one of the most respected artists in all of Latin America.
The beauty of art – and life – is that each experience is unique. Bogotá is not only Colombia’s most diverse city, but it is also a city that rejoices in those different perspectives as showcased by its art and culture. One day exploring Bogotá’s art scene is enough to see it is a celebration of diverse voices and an unexpectedly refreshing chance to listen.
If you’re in the city in October, don’t miss Bogotá’s International Art Festival, ARTBO.
Bogotá art tours and more can be arranged through Colombia Eco Travel.