justin bieber, street art and bogotá

During a tour through Colombia's other great city, Medellin, we asked our guide why graffiti was so common, and respected, across Colombia.

The explanation was not what we were expecting. 

In late 2013, the Canadian 'musician' Justin Bieber had just finished up a concert in the capital and decided he wanted to leave an indelible tribute to his dead hamster. Under the watchful eye, and blessing, of Colombia's police force he proceeded to spray-paint a Canadian maple and marijuana leaf in honour of 'Pac'.

So much, so idiot pop-star. 

However, his actions caused uproar amongst Bogotá's street-art community who for years had been harassed by authorities, even losing one of their own - Diego Felipe Becerra - who was killed by the police whilst spray-painting a wall in the city. 

Yet, here they were a couple of years later, laying out the red carpet for Justin Bieber.

Unsurprisingly, this hypocrisy was seized upon by the press and, in response, the national police chief stated that the police:

"have to evolve and see graffiti as an artistic expression of a feeling, of a motivation...Someone who paints graffiti wants to tell us something, and we have to listen”.

For undercover street artists, this was the equivalent of an open invitation. Here was the head of the institution who had tried to shut them down giving, inadvertently it must be said, his seal of approval. 

Artists took to the streets in numbers across the country, no longer requiring the protection of darkness, but in broad daylight. Indeed, in the twenty-fours after Bieber marked the walls of Bogotå, over 300 local artists went to the same spot and created 700 images.

After hearing this story, we knew we needed to check out some of the evidence for ourselves. This feeling was further confirmed on the taxi ride from the bus station where it quickly became apparent that there was A LOT more here than any other city. 

Whilst there a number street-art tours based in the city, they tend to stick to the Candeleria area. Although the walls here are adorned with a great deal of graffiti, it was the large scale works that we witnessed during our taxi ride along Calle 26 that we wanted to explore.

As it turns out, doing it on our own was a little more difficult than anticipated due to 1) six lanes of traffic and 2) our failure to realise that a lot of the good stuff was on buildings in less than desirable areas. Undeterred by the first three warnings from locals that we shouldn't be there, we eventually listened to the fourth and turned back. 

Although this was the sensible choice, we still have a little regret as we knew some of the best stuff was further down the road. If there's ever a next time...

Here's what we saw. 

street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com
street art bogota colombia - alongdustyroads.com

check out more of our guides on colombia below!