Long gone are the days when graffiti was scribbled on a wall by a hip hop youth in baggy clothes with a spray can in the New York underground. Graffiti has transformed into a culture, a way of life, a voice and, of course, an art form.
The culture is spreading around the world and giving birth to some of the most memorable contemporary artists in society – like the English graffiti artist known as Banksy, who had his work on display in the Louvre in Paris and sold some of his creation’s selling for as much as £50,000 ($78,435).
These street artists not only transform the city walls into an art gallery, but allow voices from different communities be heard. Nearshore Americas showcases five well-known graffiti artists from Latin America, uncovering their roots and reasoning behind their work.
Alexis Diaz – The man with magnificent lines, Alexis Diaz from Puerto Rico brings us art on a grand scale. I often hunt down graffiti while traveling and for me stumbling upon his work was like finding gold. These gigantic murals with such intricate details, lines and concepts inspire me to sit and stare at them for hours. His style is unique and sets him apart from the rest, with each piece featuring an animal that transforms into another animal, a skeleton or a hand, set on the backdrop of a vibrant colour. Diaz pushes the boundaries of imagination with these murals that have adorned buildings in London and Montreal. His worked was featured as one of the Best Street Art and Graffiti of 2014 by Complex Magazine.
Eduardo Kobra – Hailing from Brazil, this talented artist’s kaleidoscopic style is so well know that one look at his pieces and any graffiti fan will immediately know that it belongs to him. His use of bold, vibrant colors and lines to create magnificent murals of some of the most iconic faces in history includes Mother Teresa, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, Tupac Shakur and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. This talented artist has found the middle ground between balancing his social-political stance of remembering those who have helped the world with the creation of pure art.
One of my favourite pieces is the kissing sailor which mirrors the V-J day photograph in New York of the sailor kissing the woman in Times Square, this beautiful piece of light and colors radiating from behind the two show how graffiti has transformed into art.
Alex Senna – Another one of Brazil’s gems from Sao Paulo, Alex plays the part of the artist in love really well. With the central theme surrounding a number of his works being love and the possibility of it, the dream-like state of his black and white cartoon people set against a plain backdrop, highlights everyday relationships and feelings.
Some of the subjects covered are relationships: two people in love, two men having a conversation, a person and a bird, everyday situations. He uses the flipping of cartoon hearts in speech bubbles to add wonder to the pieces. Hipsters in Love shows the quirky side of graffiti.
El Sexto – Recently arrested by the Cuban government, this Cuban graffiti artist does more than just make art. He uses graffiti as a platform to showcase his views on Cuba, on the government and on freedom, with his art pieces and pamphlets, as well as his recent ‘almost’ performance where he bought two pigs, named them Fidel and Raúl, and was planning on roasting them to fed the people. This ‘almost’ act was enough to see him incarcerated. “I am everywhere…” is his tagline, and he is thought to voice the sentiments of many.
His tagging around Havana has made him infamous, with many seeing his work as a sign of hope, in a country where freedom of expression is limited. He was recently awarded the Haval prize for Creative Dissent which commends him in his ongoing fight for democracy. The Voice Project is campaigning for his release.
Os Gêmeos – Better known as ‘The Twins’, these brothers are arguably rated among the top graffiti artists from Latin America. Coming from Sao Paulo their blend of individual styles create a unique partnership. Their “Yellow people” can be seen in some of the best graffiti cities in the world.
I stumbled upon “the Yellow man” in Berlin last year. This giant artwork is on a random building down an everyday street. Looking up at it made me wonder how this came to be there. These brothers were even commissioned to spray paint the airplane for the Brazilian football team last year, thus taking graffiti to new heights, in more ways than one.
Whether it be for art or to make a statement, graffiti has come a long way from its hip hop days. With it no longer seen as vandalism, these graffiti artists in Latin America are paving the way for new voices to be heard and new avenues to be created. From tagging a name under a bridge to that signature someday being worth millions, be on the look out when you travel as you might spot one of their pieces in the most unlikely of places.