Valparaíso: Color, culture, capitalism

Valparaíso: Color, culture, capitalism


Ok, I know, I know, Valparaíso has been on everybody’s bucket list for quite some time now

(at least for those who are planning on going to Chile) – the city is really not a hidden gem. But since I love street art I really could not skip it, especially since my travel companions really wanted to go. And what can I say: In many many ways this place is everything you imagine it to be:

Steep streets with narrow stairs, sloping down to the ocean, old houses protected by the status of beeing UNESCO world heritage, and street art where ever your eyes wander. It feels like spray cans exploded all over the place – so much color, so many motives, the whole center is basically an open air exhibition with some really famous pieces.


Because street art is an accepted part of the appearance here, artists usually just ask the owners of walls and buildings if it would be ok to paint there. Most of the time people say yes, go ahead. Sometimes they make requests, like “You can paint here, but I want there to be some reference to Valparaíso” for example. 

And this is where it get’s interesting – at least to a nerdish person like me. Because this is not at all what art in the streets used to be. Quite to the contrary, graffiti artists were proud to spray tags, blowups, and stencils wherever they wanted, often leaving messages that were not at all approved.
It changes an art form when it stops being forbidden. On one hand, it must be a liberation for street art: Not to be confined to illegal activities, giving everybody a chance to try to perform in this artform without breaking the law, being able to focus on aesthetics, to cooperate openly, and in rare cases even to make money out of what you’re doing.


On the other hand, I personally enjoy it when art relates to society, comments on injustice, makes something invisible visible. I am not saying I did not see that at all in Valparaíso, but maybe a little less than I personally would have liked. Because I listened to a tour guide going on and on about the amazing deals, Valparaíso-born artists like INTI get when, for example, collaborating with Louis Vuitton. Don’t get me wrong, I get it, I really do. Also, I truly enjoy the beauty, the colors, the styles.

But I got into graffiti because it was claiming public space.

Because of the messages. And because I personally like political art. And I felt like Valparaíso could use a little more of that – and a little less Valparaíso-themed murals. But this is just my personal taste.

(PS.: It was still amazing to see this place. And I don’t know why there are not many, many more cities with this kind of approach to street art. Whether it is political or not.)

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