Painting to Protect | How Street Art Unveils Cartagena’s True Colours

Posted: 25 Jul, 2016

Most of Cartagena’s architecture was born with a colonial silver spoon in its mouth. Let’s be honest, the sunshine yellows, blushing pinks and flower riddled balconies hardly make for a blank canvas to throw your spray can at.

The city’s colonial conservatism – you even have to ask permission if you want to paint exterior walls a different colour –  comes tumbling down when you when you step into the historical centre’s grittier,more wayward neighbourhood sibling, Getsemaní.  

Here, it’s not all rainbow facades and Botero fat ladies – which makes it all the more captivating for the curious traveller eager to see what lies behind Cartagena’s colonial curtain. Street art chimes well with the democratic atmosphere in the area that rails against the pretentious notion that culture requires a hefty price tag in order to be  meaningful.

Graffiti discourse gets off to a strong start on Calle de la Sierpe, with the montage of murals that crawl over the depilated buildings like a chaotic ant colony.

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The Palenquera is the first mural that will stop you in your tracks.Her deep laughter lines dig in to the brickwork, with an uninhibited grin transmitting a warm Caribe glow that washes over you like a Piña Colada.

There’s no anti-status quo message here ( this is one of the rare government sponsored pieces you’ll find) so the cliche of the ‘smiling native’ is not exactly challenged, nevertheless it’s impressive for its colourful depth and character.

More interesting subjects that pack political punch bubble away in the mix. You’ve got the blink-and you’ll-miss-it paper and paste works of Lik Me, whose naked cartoonish studies of the female form peel evocatively on building facades, interrupting the male-dominated conversations with a surge of much-needed feminism. 

Or the more loud in-your-face army of kids occupying the carpark gates. Grainy, grey but smiling, with wiry bodies and hungry hands outstretched trying to capture the opportunities that remain out of reach for disenfranchised citizens.

It’s an active mirror to real life. Go here at night and you could slice through the social divide with a knife. The homeless men rooting through the industrial bins on one side, whilst revelling youngsters, on a pilgrimage to Getsemani’s (ever more internationally focused) restaurants and bars, blaze through the street without a care in the world.

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Some graffiti highlights how the gringo presence in Getsemani has become problematic, with property ownership and rental access fast becoming a thorn in the barrio’s side. One of Getsemani’s most relevant street paintings (pictured above) perfectly crystallises the double edge sword Getsemaní so delicately treads, where soaring house prices and opportunistic landlords are pushing the locals away.

If we needed harder evidence, the piece sits a stone throws away from US sandwich chain, Subway, which recently opened up a few blocks away. It sits, rather uncomfortably, between some shady bars with a strong brothel after-taste.

Making New Stories

In June 2016, This is Cartagena found itself wanting to add fuel to Cartagena’s creative fire. The city’s 408th birthday was fast approaching and we found ourselves struck with the desire to create something that would inspire a dialogue between Cartageneros and tourists. We also wanted to shed a little light on Cartagena’s street art scene, which is so often drowned out by its big Bogota brother.

The Face of Cartagena was an independent quest to search for that special someone who embodied the complex characteristics of Cartagena in one distinctive look.

There would be no white-washing of Afro-influences. In contrast, our objective was to create an even bigger platform for the authentic soul of the city to shine through.

Ana Luisa Muñoz (pictured below), a true Cartagenera in every sense of the word, drove our message home. With the deft hand of Fin DAC, an international legend on the street art scene, we set about to curate the definitive Face of Cartagena.

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The piece, fittingly entitied, ‘Las Tres Guerreras’ (The Three Warriers,) is something of a territorial stamp for Getsemani.

Its celebration of local character and ancestral charms are inviting yet intimidating, as Cartagena’s narrative grows, spurts and shifts, we hope it never loses sight of where it came from.

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Colombia’s lenient attitude to street art is skating on thin ice, with Bogota’s new mayor cracking down on the capital’s street art scene, and glossy businesses cleaning up Cartagena’s only alternative neighbourhood, we can only hope the same doesn’t go for its walls.

You can see the ‘Las Tres Guerreras’ (The Three Warriers) for yourself on Quintal Distrito Gourmet, Avenida Pedregal, Getsemani, Cartagena. 

03_StreetArtBlog_JSYoung boy hangs out in La Plaza de la Trinidad. The epicentre of social life in Getsemaní

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07_StreetArtBlog_JSStreet mural composed of white tiles. Street artists have become more ambitious with the materials they use in recent years.

Written by: Clementyne Chambers
Photography by: Joaquin Sarmiento
Other credits: Fin DAC
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