Street Art: Challenging Perceptions

Big cities around the world often have underground Graffiti and Street Art scenes, Buenos Aires is no different … or is it?

As part of this country’s deeply carved wounds in the political past, the graffiti and street art of today are a representation of the struggles, a reminder of the battles, a voice speaking out to create a movement.

From the outside looking in, the general public (at least where I’m from) view Street Art and graffiti as the enemy. It’s old. It’s ugly. It defaces and devalues property. It’s a hassle. It’s got to go. Rebellious kids are responsible for destroying property. Poor people and the uneducated are the cause.

In fact, this is exactly why there is a misconception of this form of art. It has been misunderstood by so many for so long. I’m here to challenge your perceptions.

Let me start with a very simple difference between Street Art and Graffiti as they are not the same.

Graffiti was where it all began. Various forms of painting large, blocky letters in public spaces. This was often done anonymously. Sometimes it would be legible to the average passerby, but often it was a language only understood by other graffiti artists.

Street art has nothing to do with letters and words, but everything to do with art, beauty and conceptual messages. Again, some may be obvious to a passersby, or it may be understood only within the artist community. Some displays are just for the beauty of it, with little conceptual meaning other than to give the viewer enjoyment.

Street Art in Buenos Aires
Street Art in Buenos Aires

Indeed, graffiti and street art in almost every city that has risen out of poor governments in power, loss of control or war. It is true, that in the beginning that those who went to the streets did so in the dark, illegally and in a hurry to avoid being arrested. They were driven by their passion for a cause, their audacity to stand against a dictatorship and to draw likeminded people together. They were the silent, but visual leaders of their time. Their art became a language to be shared and to unite them. They were not hitting the streets to destroy random property or to make their city ‘ugly’. They were going to the streets like men who go to war. They were fighting a battle of words against their flailing governments and building support without the aid of government funded media.

Graffiti in general started out as anti-government, or at least against specific government parties. It was a semi-permanent protest that could be spread across city walls by night and visible by day. It was a voice for those who were being silenced.

It’s a pretty dark history, but as with anything from the past, people learn and grow from it. Governments change, wars begin and end, cities make laws and then change them.

On my recent Street Art tour with Graffiti Mundo in Buenos Aires, I really began to understand more about the recent history of the art and how it flourished from the ugly past.

In the early 2000’s, the city went grey. Devoid of colour, devoid of hope. Huge billboards and public wall space was devoted to campaigning for government. Political propaganda was everywhere. Sky-high faces of leaders painted on previously blank spaces appeared.

Citizens were being silenced and the dictatorship was quashing any resistance. Artists started having secret gatherings in garages and clubs to discuss what they could do. They had no money, the government was forceful, and they were just a few people. What they decided was that they needed to put colour back into their streets. They needed to spread hope rather than disparity. They needed to move forward instead of being stuck. Artists began by painting the outside of their own homes and offices, making their own colourful art. The artists had no money, so they collected paint left overs from the street and started getting creative with mixing colours as well as trying new methods.

Spray paint is expensive to buy, although quick to use, so it was often the choice of Graffiti artists. Latex paint is free, if left over from someone painting their house, but takes longer to design with. This meant that you could not paint and run. People took to painting their own spaces, in broad daylight with whatever materials they could find. Painting, for the purpose of putting colour back in the streets; for doing something rather than nothing. This art also led to less space for political propaganda. It was a protective layer for their houses as propaganda messages from the government would easily be lost if they were painted on top of colourful art instead of on a clear blank wall.

The Artists thought that if everything else in their city was grey, boring and politically fuelled, that if they painted colourful art, with no political affiliation, it would stand out. It would disrupt the norm because it was different. And, so it continued to flourish.

A group of 12 artists collaborated on this wall below.

Soon enough, a few people painting one or two of their homes were asked by neighbours what they could do. The grand answer – Paint! Find paint and paint the grey away (or the politics away, depending how you read into it). Neighbours joined in by painting their own homes, or by offering up large blank building surfaces to be painted with full artist discretion.

Buenos Aires Street Art
Buenos Aires Street Art

The camaraderie, the appreciation of art and the common passion for revitalizing the city was thriving. No longer did artists have to buy spray paint, tip toe around after midnight and rush to pain their message on a wall before being caught. No longer was it a taboo. The city opened up and embraced the art with many businesses now commissioning artists to paint their walls. Sometimes these are paid gigs, other times artists do it simply for the joy of painting and sharing their vision.

Still today there is a law in Argentina that says you have the right to paint your house however you wish. Neighbours don’t complain about it being an eye-sore, if you own it, you can paint it.

A few years ago, Buenos Aires even hosted a large scale festival dedicated to painting the city. Well-known graffiti and street artists came from around the world (by invitation or by choice) to participate. Being a government run project, sadly, the festival rubbed many artists the wrong way as the funds coming in from the festival all went back to the government (to their consulting and construction fees) while none of the money went back to support the artists.

The festival was held mainly in an area of the city near Palermo Hollywood, but known for social housing, the city dump and a main bus hub. Not the prettiest or most desirable of neighbourhoods. Hundreds of artists joined the festival and painted a piece of themselves on the walls, brightening up this otherwise monotonous neighbourhood.

Two pieces of note:

Street Art in Buenos Aires
Street Art in Buenos Aires by Jim Vision
Street Art in Buenos Aires
Street Art in Buenos Aires by Jaz

Over the years, street art studios have opened and closed. Sadly, most of them are now closed. It has been a losing battle as the government prohibits artists from exporting their art to an international market. This means their art has to be purchased by other Argentinian’s, who for the most part are in the same constant struggle to get buy with the little money they have. They don’t have money to buy art, leading to the closing of many of the galleries and lack of exposure and recognition for deserving Argentinian artists.

Even today, as European and first world as Argentina appears to the outside world, it’s internal struggles are tormenting it’s people every day. They are stuck in a hamster wheel where they can’t get off. Their money is monitored, their currency has no value and citizens are not allowed to earn or spend USD.

In the year 2015, Argentina is still in political turmoil, but the vision and artistic passion of it’s people lives on through the streets. No matter where you look, you can see walls popping with colour, you can see images of conflict amongst images of roses. You can even find an entire street block filled with Homer Simpson’s face as an effort to be the world’s largest wall of Homer Simpson.

The spirit of these artists is friendly, open and without shame for the work that they do. Although their government stings them with restrictions that are unbearable for many of us to consider, they march on spreading their vision throughout the city.

These are not the poor, uneducated criminals that the media would have us believe. These are talented, educated, intelligent leaders who believe in a better Buenos Aires, a better Argentina. Their voice runs through the streets and colourfully joins neighbours and strangers together against the government’s disparity.

Love at first sight Photo Essay: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

In September 2014 I went on a spectacular tall ship sailing with Starclippers. We were scheduled for six ports of call and I was least excited about Slovenia as I knew nothing about it and knew no one who had been there. I decided that I would do the day tour to the capital of Ljubljana without really knowing anything about it. It’s actually one of my favourite things about traveling solo … you can do as much or as little research as you wish. I had done very little (none actually) on Slovenia. I like doing zero research because then I have zero expectations. Now, it doesn’t always work out for the best, as sometimes research can be a good thing, but this time, it was perfect.

After a couple of hours by coach from the seaside town of Porec, in land to Ljubljana, our group hopped out and started walking toward city centre. It was a crisp, sunny autumn day. The sun was shining, everyone was a little chilly but the fresh air made me feel alive. I can’t quite pin-point it, but every once in awhile I fall in love with a city and this one was love at first site. Immediately I noticed the beauty of the old buildings – a mix of various periods of famous architecture. I’m not a history buff so knowing the difference between Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque architectures is not my strong point, but whatever the mix is that presents itself in Ljubljana is undisputedly beautiful. Take a look for yourself from the Ljubljana Castle to the city’s dragon bridge, the detail, history and strength show through. The streets were old, steeped in history but wide and open, interchanging with newer style architecture. A large section of the main core is pedestrian only and the streets were impeccably clean. I had 2 – 3 hours on a group tour to learn about this lovely city, along with taking in a local lunch of sausages, wine and potatoes. The quick overview didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. It did, however give me the yearning to go back, not just to Ljubljana, but to Slovenia in general. Check out some of my favourite photos of Ljubljana below.

If you are interested in a Slovenian adventure, drop me a message. I’d be happy to set you up with an interesting small group tour, a tall ship sailing that has a Slovenian stop or help you with your own custom itinerary!

Vina and Valpo – Part 2

Valparaiso was the area that I was most interested in visiting as many people had told me of it’s beauty. I hadn’t realized that Vina del Mar and Valparaiso were so close to each other. In fact, there is no clear line between the two. The cities just gently join one another.

Valparaiso aptly translates to Valley of Paradise.

Valparaiso is the older of the two cities. It was originally the first port that ships arrived at when sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it was the most important and best known port on the Pacific Ocean in South America. At the time (late 1800’s), it was a melting pot for all different cultures as many immigrants came to settle in the area for it’s prevailing prosperity and economic situation. Many of the immigrants were from Eastern Europe and Russia, but others came from all over the world.

It is known for being home to Latin America’s first stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, the country’s first public library and the oldest newspaper in continuous publication in the world. History truly runs deep through this enchanting city.

Other than being an important port for cargo ships, it was also widely known for the fishing industry as the cold arctic current turns the Pacific ocean into a highway for fish, bringing masses of them nearby throughout various seasons. Sadly, when the Panama canal was built in 1914, the route for ships was changed and Valparaiso was all but forgotten near the southern tip of the continent, causing a major economic downturn.

It is such a shame because Valparaiso truly is a unique area. Of course, the port was the main focus, but when the city grew by leaps and bounds, it had no where to expand except for up the surrounding steep hills. Houses were built mostly with cheap materials such as wood and corrugated metal and then painted with the same type of paint that was used on the ships as it was readily available and cheap. Today, most of the houses remain the same. Some say the bright paint colours were used so that the houses could be seen through the dense fog that covers the area every morning.

Valparaiso is also known for it’s variety and quantity of street art splashing the walls and gates with brilliant colours, throughout the residential areas, with beautifully designed paintings from artists around the world. Although street art is not officially legal, it is widely accepted as part of the community. Many locals seek out artists to design art for their outer house or business walls. And, many artists who find wall space available pitch their ideas to the owner and collaborate before permanently introducing their art.

And, they are very proud of their artistic talent in Valparaiso. Particularly, Pablo Neruda. We visited one of his houses which his wife turned into a museum after his passing. He was world-renowned in poetry, also a well-known and loved writer, politician and diplomat. Today, many of his works can be found translated into many other languages and some still grace the best sellers list.

House of Pablo Neruda
Writer, thinker, poet, diplomat and politician.

The central area of Valparaiso is protected by Unesco as of 2003. The areas warmly known as Happy Hill and Conception Hill have the only functioning funiculars in the area.

The funiculars were built starting in the late 1800’s to move people easily and cheaply up and down the steep hillsides. Every morning people would come down the hills to work in the centre or at the port and then in the evening, everyone would be tasked with climbing up the steep hills to their homes. The funiculars were put in place to aid the locals, mainly with their ascent up the hills. Originally there were approximately 26 funiculars throughout the city, painted in bright colours and street art to match the surrounding areas. But now, there are only eight remain in operation.

I was lucky enough to get to travel down on one, El Peral, built in 1902. The ride cost one Chilean peso and took about one minute. There are two funiculars at the same station. As one is traveling down, the other is balancing the gears by traveling up. It boggles my mind that any of the equipment still functions. From the clearly ancient gears, to the warped door that had to be wiggled just right in order to open and the questionable floor boards at the waiting station … it was quite the experience.

Sadly our tour was a bit rushed and I only got to view one or two of the other funiculars in passing. I didn’t have time to photograph them. I wish I had more time to fully explore the beautiful mess that is Valparaiso. I felt my time was too short and rushed to understand the community, but I could instantly feel at home in the disarray of streets and mess of colours. Despite the now poor economic situation, the city is alive with colour, culture and history.

Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden Buenos Aires

November 25, 2014

I’m staying in a mostly local area of Buenos Aires called Almagro. It is the district beside Palermo, which is better known for tourists. Within Palermo, there is a lot of green space, including the Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens. Today, I took a walk from my apartment to the gardens and planned on taking a taxi home, however the day was so nice that I decided to walk both ways. The streets are a bit difficult to navigate because many of them run at an angle and quite a few have three-way intersections, but somehow I managed without getting too far off the route! I left at 3pm and returned home around 6:30pm. That gave me time for a sit down lunch and yummy dulce de leche ice cream on the way home!

My biggest challenge was finding the entrance to the gardens! I walked ALL the way around the perimeter and every gate was closed, but I could see people inside! How did they get there? Finally, on my last 300 meters, I found the ‘unica entrada’ … the ‘only entrance’.

Here’s a quick iPhone photo essay of the botanical gardens and my ice cream treat on my way home! Enjoy.

Venice Photo Essay

Despite how busy Venice was on the last weekend in September 2014 when I visited, I really enjoyed wandering the streets and canals. A bit frustrated with the overflowing vaporettos, I spent most of my time exploring by foot. I arrived on a Friday afternoon and left on Monday morning, so I had two full days to explore, plus time to work. Looking back, I could have spent another day or two there exploring. I didn’t go into any of the museums or churches and I did not make it to Burano. Although I feel like two full days is enough for most people, there is certainly enough to keep you busy for a few days if you like to explore at a slower pace.

I’ll forever remember Venice as the fist place that I ate a waffle with a mountain of nutella and then walked through the dark winding streets back to my hotel to find out that despite having used a napkin, I had a nutella goatee on my chin. Oh the benefits of traveling alone and not having anyone to tell you when you have something embarrassing on your face or in your teeth. On the bright side, it was dark … I didn’t talk to anyone on the way home and even if I did, they would never see me again!

And don’t forget, if you are planning a trip to Italy, I’d love to help you out! Just drop me a message.

Rovinj, Croatia Photo Essay

Boats in the harbour, Rovinj, Croatia

On our fifth day at sea on the beautiful Star Clippers Mediterranean sailing, we arrived in Rovinj, Croatia. Prior to booking this sailing trip, I had never heard of Rovinj and I had done no research on it, so I had no expectations.

I decided to explore the small community on my own rather than taking a tour. Despite the rain early in the day, I thoroughly enjoyed my solo walk through the narrow streets exploring and wondering what I would find around each corner or down the next alleyway. I wandered aimlessly, without a map, for a couple of hours throughout the community, stopping at several galleries and boutique stores along the way to the Church. I headed up the hill toward the church and then down the hill on the other side to the harbour.

The rain came and went, but only softly, no downpours, so it simply added to the charm of the town. Walking on the well trodden stones, that are rubbed smooth, was a challenge in the rain; even in sneakers, it was slippery.

One of my favourite memories of Rovinj was a saxophone busker near the main square. I could hear the beautiful sound of the saxophone from several streets away and followed my ears until I found a single man playing near a cafe. He happened to be playing ‘Happy’, which of course, made me happy! I stood in the small crowd and listened to him for a few minutes, then I decided to take a short video and of course throw a few dollars in his case. Who knew that the acoustics in this small little town would be delightful for street musicians. And who knew I’d hear the beautiful haunting sounds of a saxophone during my short little visit to Rovinj.

While I wandered, I stopped at the tourist market and bought a necklace, one of the few things I purchased on my travels. The market was full of jewelry, scarves, souvenirs … your regular ‘tourist’ market. I looked at a lot of jewelry and found only one necklace that really stood out, so I returned to the stall and haggled to get it for 140 Kuna (about $25 CAD which was probably still too much!) I also wandered through the local outdoor food market which was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and fish.

In the main square and surrounding the harbour were endless cafes and restaurants waiting to invite you in. Some were fancy, some just little mom and pop shops. A little something for everyone.

Take a look at a few of my favourite photos of the community. Isn’t it a pretty little seaside town?

I love to hear from my readers, so don’t be shy! Drop me a note!

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Photo Essay

Walled city of Dubrovnik

On September 22nd, 2014 Dubrovnik, Croatia was the port of call from my Star Clippers Mediterranean sailing. It was our first stop and the one that I was most anticipating.

The old city of Dubrovnik is a Unesco World Heritage site. It is surrounded by approximately two kilometres of  walls protecting it from intruders in all directions. From the moment I saw the city from the sun deck of my ship, I knew why people were amazed at the beauty.

We anchored off shore and tendered in to the lagoon which is hidden by a portion of the city walls. I spent an hour or so wandering the flat part of the internal city and meandering through the very crowded, tiny streets. When I was tired of the crowds, I bought a ticket ($10 US approx) and headed up, up, up to the city wall and started slowly making my way around the entire city from above.

There are over 1000 steps along the two kilometre stretch of city walls, and I decided to hike it in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Phew! Luckily there are a few small shops / cafes along the wall with water and snacks. You could likely walk the walls in about an hour if you moved along at a good pace without stopping, but what would be the point? You should plan for 2 – 3 hours, stop and take in the stunning views in every direction. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Even at the end of September, Dubrovnik is a busy spot for tourists. My small ship was able to anchor nearby and we tendered in to the city, but several cruise ships dock each day as well and send bus-loads of passengers into the old city. Upwards of 6000 people a day visit inside the city walls, usually between 10am and 4pm. Be prepared for crowded streets and chaos during the day. If you have the opportunity to stay around after 4pm, the crowds thin out and you get a better feel for the city rather than the tourism. There are some great restaurants and nightlife spots.

South East Asia – Chapter 16 – Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Yangon is the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda. Nearly 25 000 people visit it per day on the weekend. Although, most of this is actually locals, not tourists.

We only spent about an hour wandering around the inside area of the Pagoda, but I could have spent much longer! Thankfully, our local guide took us to have our astrology reading done where we sat in the coolness of one of the buildings, out of the scorching mid-day sun. After our astrology readings, we bought the flowers as per each of our readings and then used them as an offering to the shrine for our day of birth, where we also poured an uneven number of cups of water on our symbols.

Here’s a quick little photo essay. Put your sunglasses on and get ready for a whirlwind of gold!

A Condor Photo Essay

As one of our Peru Through the Lens passengers had a particular fascination with birds, our G leader surprised us with a visit to an animal sanctuary in the Sacred Valley where there were condors. Not only were their condors, but ones that we could get within feet of. It was absolutely amazing.

After a short introduction to the sanctuary and meeting the llamas, pekuna, parrots and pumas, we got to the main event … the condors.

We entered into the large condor cage with a hill in the back and three monstrous condors sitting on their perches near the front of the cage.

Condor
Condor
Condors
Condors

After a few minutes of admiring the giant birds, the handlers led the birds to the top of the hill where the took flight swooping within only a couple of feet of our heads. One of our passengers squealed, Elard fell over and several of us ducked even though we were already kneeling. You could feel the power of their wings pushing the air around you, but yet they landed on their perches and paid no attention to us.

Before leaving the giant birds for their next visitors, we were given a few moments to pose with them. Look how close we could get!

0043_ShariTucker

Don and the Condor
Don and the Condor

Overall, a pretty cool surprise. Amazing to see these giants up close!

Uros Islands Photo Essay

Uros Islands

The Uros Islands are truly one of the most unique and amazing places that I have ever visited. They are located in Lake Titicaca, approximately a 20 minute boat ride from Puno. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in South America at approximately 13 000 feet.

The Uros islands are a group of approximately 79 floating islands hand-made of totora (reeds from Lake Titicaca). Totora is the staple of these islands. From actually building the islands on layers of reeds and blocks of roots, to eating the white part, to building all of their boats and homes from the reeds.

As the old layers of reeds begin to rot, new layers are added on top to keep the floor fresh and solid. Boats and houses are rebuilt approximately every six months for the same reason.

At one time the islands were moved amongst the reeds to hide from impending danger and strategically for war. Now, the islands are anchored in place with three to five families living on each island in small reed huts. There is a hospital, a school and a seventh day adventist church for the community.