BY: LAURA ROJAS
Colombia is often recognized for its vibrant art scene and culture, with big names such as painter Fernando Botero and Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez calling Colombia home.
But aside from excelling in fine arts, Colombia’s embrace and decriminalization of graffiti gave birth to a free outlet of creativity that has garnered international attention. Massive, intricate and beautifully coloured murals can be found all across Colombia’s major cities, and walking tours, often led by some of the street artists themselves, are common.
Graffiti first took flight during Colombia’s Civil War, serving as an outlet for artists to express their frustrations with the political system and other social issues. Even now, a lot of the art native to the country makes heavy commentary on social and political issues, and serves to teach tourists and bystanders Colombian history.
Bastardilla is a renowned street artist from Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city. Her work, although central to the city, is now recognized around the world. Not much is known about the artist- partially because she chooses to remain anonymous. In one of the few interviews she’s done for an 8-part documentary series called “Défense d’Afficher”, Bastardilla comments that the idea of anonymity is particularly appealing “in a world where everyone is promoting their own image.”
Much of her work centres on the themes of feminism, the trials of Latin American women and the fight to end violence in South America. “In Colombia,” she says, “violence is still something that’s very present. It’s a disease that continues to spread exactly like rabies, and I can’t understand where it all comes from.” Much of that violence is due to the misuse of power particularly among police forces. This, apparently, is universal.
One of her most recent works was a mural in Mexico City commissioned by MANIFESTO, a project by Gallery Fifty24MX. Artists from Mexico, Italy, Colombia, Argentina and the US were invited to create murals that commented on Mexico’s current socio-political situation. Bastardilla’s piece shows youth armed with bows and pencils sitting on a book with the words “we want them back alive” scrawled at the bottom. This piece was created in regards to the case of 43 university students who were abducted by police officers in Iguala, Guerrero last year. They were subsequently handed over to gang members and killed.
But women’s issues seem to be Bastardilla’s most prominent theme. “As a woman, I’ve had to fight against these types of realities- against the fact that people want to assault me, that I’m not taken into consideration for a lot of things. And I’ve had to fight against a world that is still turning mostly around men.” As painful as it sounds, knowing that there are still so many things in the world that actively go against women is a driving force in Bastardilla’s art. Those women, the ones fighting for change or hurting from inequality are her biggest inspiration. “I like being able to see and work with those subjects which aren’t often seen. The resilience of women, the way their stories of strength can be found on any given corner.”
One of her most popular works is titled “Minga!” a word which stems from the Amazonian Kichwa dialect. It translates roughly to mean a collective work, or community actions with a social benefit. Often expressed as a “peaceful manifestation carried out through a march of hundreds of kilometers by different groups and organizations from various Colombian regions,” the aim is to create community dialogue and figure out the best steps to take in order to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the people in their ancestral lands.
Here, Bastardilla combines her respect for women with her interest in the social and political issues of Colombia to create a piece, which resonates with multiple statements. She wanted to show the multiple burdens that Native-Colombian women carry, and how they are so often overlooked.
Bastardilla uses thick expressive lines and adds sparkles to her work, creating pieces that catch the light beautifully at night. “My mind and my images are floating around the street,” she tells, “even when I’m not painting, I’m thinking of the things I’m going to make.” There are very intimate details that come out of her art, building connections between people and allowing for the introduction of social-political themes in everyday dialogue. Painting, for her, is a way to get closer to people and build other forms of thought.