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If there is one thing you might notice quickly after you arrive in Buenos Aires, it’s the amount of graffiti you will see on many of the buildings in the city.  In other parts of the world, the presence of graffiti on city buildings or in city parks can sometimes have a negative stigma attached to it.  In many cities of South America, graffiti is very much a large part of the culture and is celebrated with enthusiasm during festivals, competitions, and is even legally allowed at times.  For instance, in Buenos Aires, graffiti is techinically illegal but is typically allowed in some public places and it is also quite common for artists to simply ask the owner of a building or residence if they could use their wall as a “canvas.”  Of course, this clearly depends on the type of graffiti and the overall skill of the artist.  In some cases, entire blocks can be covered in street art by a single artist!

In general, much of the graffiti in Buenos Aires that you see on a typical day is actually quite prevalent, so much so, that it’s almost hardly even noticeable after awhile.  However, there are times when you will turn a corner and be confronted with a large artistic mural.  But like most things, not all graffiti is equal.  For the sake of simplicity in this blog, I will break artistic “graffiti” down into three major groups: Vandalism (Tagging), Graffiti (Bombing), and Street Art (Piecing).

Vandalism: deliberately mischievous or malicious destruction or damage of property: vandalism of public buildings.

I think this definition accurately describes what many would consider the “lowest” form of graffiti.  This type graffiti can be found all over the city (and the world) and many probably don’t appreciate seeing all over the city buildings.  Vandalism graffiti ranges from obscene messages, crude attempts at art, disfiguration, or what is known as “tagging.”  “Tags” are recognizable logos, designs, or distinctive lettering styles that are specific to each artist and act as a sort calling card.  They are often quite simple so that they can be done in haste and serve as a way for graffiti/street artists to claim their turf by tagging buildings, signs, walls, etc.  For most people it is mere vandalism, but for others, it’s a part of their subculture and it represents a sense of street respect (or disrespect).

Standard Graffiti, or “bombing,” takes quite a bit more time that tagging and involves using a lot more style, skill and different colors for the final product.  This style of graffiti is probably what many people think about when they imagine street graffiti in the artistic sense.  It is commonly seen on the sides of train cars, subways, back alleyway walls, storefront shudders, beside train tracks, and sometimes on overpasses, etc.  Because bombing takes more time to complete than a simple tag, it can be associated with a higher level of “respect.”  Bombing is typically characterized by stylized, multicolored lettering that usually represents the artists’ alias.

Street Art can be considered the highest and most respected (in most cases) form of urban graffiti.  “Piecing,” or the painting of artistic murals, is quite common all over Buenos Aires and one could spend days walking or riding a bike around the city in search of new murals.  In fact, a lot of the world’s most famous street artists frequent Buenos Aires to display their talents for all to see.  There are even some street art tours in the city if you really want to see many of the works around the city and get a first hand understanding of the (sub)culture.  Whether or not you explore the city in search of finding some great pieces of art, one thing is for sure, you will not go very long in Buenos Aires without seeing some type of graffiti.  Maybe after reading this, you will think a little more about its purpose and place in the overall fabric of South American urban culture.