During our overland trip through Colombia, we found a lot of amazing street art in truly unexpected places: along highways, in hidden rural hamlets, and in small towns, which are often not marked on maps. Most of these murals will never been seen by the ‘average traveller’; we discovered them due to our preference for taking the back roads, usually away from the highlights listed in most guidebooks.
A colourful street art gallery with examples of murals we found in rural regions and small towns of Colombia. Beautiful motifs adorning public spaces.
Our latest street art post opens the door to a number of interesting questions:
What is street art?
Is it an urban phenomenon, strongly rooted in the subculture of cities?
Obviously not (anymore), as this post shows that urban art has now reached the countryside; it has outgrown its confinement to chic-shabby corners of large metropolitan centres.
Is street art the same as graffiti?
These are often mixed up by the general public. In the artists’ view, there is a clear distinction. The term ‘graffiti’ refers to a style of elaborate writing, often seen in so-called ‘tags’. Street art always incorporates some form of imagery.
Although, in Latin America, and particularly in Colombia, they seem to be interchangeable. You hear guides talk about graffiti when they’re obviously standing in front of a street art mural.
While graffiti artists place their work in public, generally speaking they are not interested in the public understanding their work; they want to speak to other graffiti artists. Street artists want everyone to view and be engaged by their work. They are trying to make a statement.
Quoted from a worthwhile article to read on the topic ‘graffiti versus street art’ .
Once you let the above statement sink in, you will understand why street art isn’t necessarily confined to the urban environment.
Is street art always painted or sprayed onto walls?
In our definition, the boundaries are becoming more fluid. For us any visual two-dimensional art*) in a public place, is some form of street art.
If you can see it from a street and it’s on a wall then we call it street art.
*) I’m using the term ‘two-dimensional’ to distinguish from sculpture and other forms of century-old public art. Although, in a way, you could call them ‘Street Art’ too.
Besides spray paint and stencils, more and more street artists are starting to use other media to create their work, e.g. mosaic tiles. So we have included some full tile mosaics and other tile work in this gallery. To the viewer, it doesn’t matter if these art pieces are considered by purists as ‘street art’ or not. There are some excellent examples at the end of this post, which certainly blur the lines.
Has street art become a tourist attraction?
Yes and no. In large municipalities it certainly appears so, by the numerous ‘street art tours’ offered in many city centres. Small towns often install a mural or several, to beautify their town centre and make it more attractive. But most street art is still created by artists eager to show off their work in public places, and to contribute to making the street scape more colourful.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description. Photos in order from south to north.
The sanctuary of Las Lajas is a famous tourist attraction in the far south of Colombia. This mural adorns a shop facade near the main road.
To this day we don’t know the name of the small town where we photographed this street art mural. It’s somewhere along the busy Pan-American highway between Ipiales and Pasto – a quick shot out of the vehicle window.
If you are going to the Laguna de la Cocha in Colombia, try to explore the side roads. We found this small hamlet with half a dozen murals along one of the dirt roads west of the lake.
We found this small hamlet to the west of Laguna de la Cocha in Colombia. It had at least half a dozen colourful murals. The farmers, owners of the house, obviously wanted to be in the shot!
The small town of Sibundoy in Colombia is worth a short stop if you drive the ‘Trampolino de la Muerte’! Not only can you find some nice street art, there are around 8-10 large colourful wooden sculptures on the square in front of the church.
The small town of Sibundoy in Colombia is worth a short stop if you drive the ‘Trampolino de la Muerte’! This is our favourite mural, right at the square in front of the church – such an expressive face!
A street art mural in Mocoa in Colombia: the face of a native girl and colibris flying off, symbolising freedom.
This street art mural in Mocoa (Colombia) got our attention with its bright red background – we love the detail in the man’s face and feathers.
Roldanillo is another small town near Colombia’s coffee region, which is not on the tourist radar. We were surprised by what we found: a pleasant town with some lovely street art murals.
Roldanillo in another small town near Colombia’s coffee region, which is not on the tourist radar. This mural (almost in dot painting style) adorns the town hall.
Street art on a corner building in Salento, a fairly touristy town in Colombia’s coffee region. This is a hostal looking for more attention.
Street art on a corner building in Salento. A close-up of the lovely tropical birds, a little up the road from the street corner.
Some public art in Filandia: a rather naive country scene painted on the front of a rural supply store.
This mural in Filandia depicts a coffee farmer – the region’s main crop, famous well beyond the borders of Colombia.
The hostal in Salento, where we stayed, had this mural depicting the famous endemic wax palms of of the nearby Valle de Cocora.
One street art wall in Manizales.
Almost full view of a large street art retaining wall in Manizales. See detailed photos below!
Another part of a large street art retaining wall, which we discovered when driving out of Manizales.
Part of a large street art retaining wall, which we discovered when driving out of Manizales. What does the vulture picking a brain would mean to you?
Part of a large street art retaining wall, which we discovered when driving out of Manizales: the third eye.
Part of a large street art retaining wall, which we discovered when driving out of Manizales, one of the main centres in Colombia’s coffee region.
Another part of a large street art retaining wall in Manizales. Kinda frightening, this (drowning?) face in monochrome colours.
Another part of a large street art retaining wall in Manizales. I love the detailed pattern on the kimono sleeves and the small umbrella.
The far end of a large street art retaining wall in Manizales. Unfortunately I was on the other side of a busy 4-lane-road and, between traffic, this shot didn’t become fully focussed.
Street Art in Tunja, a provincial capital of Colombia. Shame that the many power lines distract from the motif of a meditating frog.
Street Art in Tunja, a provincial capital of Colombia. We passed this colourful corner building and only had a chance to photograph it out of the side window of our truck.
We found this very traditional street art piece in the small town of Tibasosa. Most people will bypass this sleepy village.
Our only reason to drive into Nobsa was to find a place to spend the night. The next morning we noticed this mural opposite a school. Later we learned that Nobsa is famous for making hammocks – another reason to go…
This almost classical mural is hidden in an arcade near a market square in Mompox.
The town of Santa Cruz de Mompox holds an annual jazz festival – this is one of the murals dedicated to its performers.
The town of Santa Cruz de Mompox holds an annual jazz festival – here you see a saxophone player in front of the historic Santa Barbara church, one of the town’s historic landmarks.
This long wall in Mompox is not painted – this is all one big tile mosaic, mostly referring to the local jazz festival. We love it so much it had to be included in this post!
A close-up of the mosaic mural in Mompox, Colombia. I love how the tile bits create a sparkle around the jazz musicians – almost like in “real life”.
A large tiled mural at the riverfront of Santa Cruz de Lorica, one of Colombia’s heritage towns (see our post about these!)
When I started choosing photos for this post, I had the idea that a “Street Art in Colombia” post would be our last country specific entry about our 4 years in South America, apart from our series “Overlanding in …” (which isn’t finished yet). But I quickly realised that we have so many photos, I could limit this one to images from small towns and rural regions of Colombia.
An interesting aspect of the street art found in rural regions and small towns of Colombia, is that you see many more motifs referring to the indigenous heritage of the country, or scenes depicting nature in its various forms – either birds (often symbolising ‘freedom’), or daily life in the country (farming).
We have already published two posts about our amazing experience with the “Storytellers’ Street Art Tour of Comuna 13” in Medellin, and two galleries from Bogota – one limited to Candelaria , and a second one from outside the city centre . Now I have enough photos left to add the “real final post”, covering street art in the cities of Medellin and Cartagena. So stay tuned; I’ll post this soon!
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