Street art is different from graffiti. One is vandalism, an outlet for fury, a way gangs mark their turf, a cry of despair in the urban jungle. The other is an artistic experience to savor on your way to work or the pool or your best friend’s house, noticing new details with the changing light of the day or the number of people on the street. In February, 2020, Unicentro Mall featured an exhibition of street art produced by 4Eskuela, a local group of artists and art school.
Welcome to Unicentro. I’ll be watching you shop today.
Street art is very big in Medellin. There are several schools with hundreds of students who learn music and dance as well as painting, all part of transforming Medellin’s meanest streets into places of self-expression.
The images are simple and complex at the same time: a sneaker that any kid might have taken off and tossed aside, a smiley face, a block U from a university logo. Until the sneaker shows its two sets of teeth, one of them bared with a predatory sneer under what might be a computer terminal, the other exposed in the front like piano keys, or toes. The smiley face’s short body connects to what might be a tombstone. Shapes, colors and faces crowd behind the main images, incomplete, almost random, leaving room for a careful viewer to make intricate interpretations: the artist’s inner states? Stories of the neighborhood where the artwork appears?
Afro-Colombians are influential in the cultural life and history of Medellín, and their presence in the street art of the 4Eskuela Krew is vividly felt.
This photo in the exhibit showed that the artist Arte Vital had gone to Paris to leave Afro-Colombian beauty on a street corner.
There were some pieces that spoke to the graffiti traditions of street art, too: bright colors, block letters so fat and curvy they might spell out a word – or might not. So much youthful exuberance, energy, a little whiff of anarchy – a long way from the sober memories of Afro-Colombian heritage.