Another quick update…
My project has officially evolved/expanded so that I’ll be focusing on ARTE CALLEJERO (street art), as a more general term than just “graffiti.” I’ve been creating a timeline of sorts about any sort of movements that involve writing/art in the streets in Buenos Aires since about the 1890s until today, and what seems to emerge from this is two rather distinct histories/stories (linguistic/dorky sidenote: I love that in spanish, the word for those two can be the same).
1. the political writing on the wall (pintura política): organizations, the church, and political parties posting up their two cents for all to read. in the beginning, stamements were often rhythmic, like chants in demonstrations, so there was a link between the oral and the written. With time, this became more visuall; most notable is the Siluetazo of 1983 by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (when the organization placed thousands of white silhouettes around the city, a nod to the Disappeared under the military dictatorship). In the 1990s, more groups emerged that hoped to raise awareness about the impunity of officers during the dictatorship, so there was a strong link to human rights groups. (Examples of these include HIJOs and Grupo Etcetera, both begun in 1997). Finally, following the economic crisis that peaked in December 2001, more groups emerged, this time more artistically-leaning (TPS, Arte! Arde), which sought to raise awareness about government neglect as well as police brutality. (Many poltiical-artistic groups formed that used Dario Santillan, who was killed by police at a protest, as their martyr.)
INTERNATIONAL HISTORICAL ANTECEDENT: France 1950s-60s, peaking with the student movement of May 1968.
2. graffiti / the artistic side: begun in the 60s/70s with statements scribbled on walls denouncing mass media (some art students also began to get involved). In the 70s, aerosol also started gaining popularity (even for political statements), a result of the NYC graff movement. In the 80s and 90s, graffiti began appearing relating to national and international rock music, as well as about football (soccer) teams. In the 1990s, tagging gained popularity too (cool note: according to researcher Emilio Peterson, the first tags in Buenos Aires were actually done by foreigners, not Argentines). Then in the late 90s, just as groups like HIJOS and Grupo Etc. were starting up, students at the University of Buenos Aires’ FADU (architecture/design) sector began making their marks on the street. According to Chu from one of those first groups (DOMA), some of those activities were political too. With the 2001 crisis, though, many artists began to reject the politicized nature of, well, everything, and began to create “personajes” (characters) that could enliven, and make happier, public streets. Other artists, less concerned about whether the act of graffiti should be considered political or not, joined simply because the culture was fun or because it allowed for another type of artistic expression.
INTERNATIONAL HISTORICAL ANTECEDENT: New York City 70s and 80s, aesthetic graffiti.
What’s interesting here is how both were born out of the same circumstances and are now creating two different responses to the same stimuli–like two fraternal twins, if you will. And as both movements continue to mature, they begin to face similar challenges posed by the current state of society/art: questions of institutionalism, their links to “high art,” and ways to make the forms participatory.
In one of Ana Longoni’s articles, some of the activist artists mentioned that there could be a decline of activist art now that political groups are utilizing artistic means within themselves, without needing to reach out to outside organizations specializing in political art. At the same time, graffiti seems to be expanding and entering a new phase of its life, causing some to term the current age one of “posgraffiti.”