Learn.Ride.Enjoy: Exploring Street Art in Santiago on Bike

In terms of artistic clout and cultural vivacity, Valparaiso may trump Santiago as Chile's most bohemian city, yet that does not mean one can’t encounter their own microcosm of creative charm within the business-like capital.

Photo courtesy Bicitur, www.bicitur.cl
Photo courtesy Bicitur, www.bicitur.cl

Barrio Brasil, and the up and coming Barrio Yungay, offer their own alternative characteristics, with architectural delights and walls emblazoned with street art presenting a feast for the eyes and nourishment for the soul, for all those who dare to dwell a little further afield from the more typical tourist zones of the city.

Situated west of Santiago central, the barrios faced depletion and estrangement from the 1950s due to the construction of the monstrous North-South highway which isolated them from the central, historic part of the city, yet coincidentally salvaged them from the assault of bland and monotonous architecture which characterized Santiago in the years to come. Locals and visitors nowadays can enjoy cobbled streets, abandoned churches and miraculously preserved mansions from the 19th and 20th centuries, when the area attracted the city's wealthiest residents; a timelessly pretty setting for the plethora of eateries, bars and hip nightclubs enjoyed by the area's young bohemian residents.

Photo by Charlie Duffield
Photo by Charlie Duffield

Barrio Brasil and Yungay offer a side of Santiago without the skyscrapers, far from the flashier, commerce driven areas of Providencia and Las Condes. The area is in touch with its past and driven by cultural assertion. Streets centrally converge on the grass laden Plaza Brasil, rimmed with cafes, where couples can lounge under the shade of trees and children can clamber among the park's bold sculptures. The area’s largest park, Quinta Normal – at 96 acres – offers a beautifully landscaped botanical paradise with grassy lawns, over a dozen varieties of trees, a lagoon and paddle boat rental, fountains and a Natural History Museum.

However, most of all, the area is distinctive for its neighborhood street art. One of the best ways to discover, appreciate and understand the area’s impressive collection is through Bicitur - a free bicycle tour which runs on weekday evenings and during the mornings on weekends around Plaza Yungay. The tour allows visitors to view the area's most prominent works, as well as many of its hidden gems. As you free wheel your way among emblazoned street corners and decadent house fronts, prepare to be immersed in the cultural significance of the art before your eyes; so much more than a color-soaked graphic design, each paint stroke imbued with a stoical desire to alleviate a societal or environmental plight. A form of protest, with greater permanence than a rowdy street march, curtailed by cabineros, and an action of freedom that is here to stay.

Revolver interviewed Julio Fernandez Prada, who runs Bicitur, to find out more.

When and why was Bicitur established?

Bicitur started as a project and materialized in September 2013 with five bicycles already pedaling in the streets. The 'why' is something difficult to concretely explain: simply, we felt that there was something which no one was doing, and needed to be done. All the murals tell a story, they are the collective demands of our problematic society, reflected on the walls of the neighborhood. We found it necessary, pleasant, and an activity which was almost or fully part of the fight, like those very same murals.

Photo by Charlie Duffield
Photo by Charlie Duffield

What was your motivation and where did the idea come from?

The idea came on a rainy afternoon whilst travelling around Barrio Brasil by bike, where we considered how nice it would be for someone to tell us who was behind each work, and to know a little about the message of each piece.

How have you advertised Bicitur? Have you had success?

Mainly through posters in hostels. We think that flyers largely end up polluting the environment so we have always tried to avoid these. We have confidence in the experience of taking our tour and inviting others to do the same, to create conversation about Bicitur and in this way generating an honest, clean and free strategy of advertising our tour.

What can people expect from the tour? What can they learn about Chilean history, social problems or the indigenous Mapuche people?

They can expect to have a truly unforgettable time! There is definitely a before and after difference. After pedaling with us it will be much easier to identify the individual artists behind each artwork, and to understand why their techniques and their individual characteristics make them unique.

At the same time, you can understand so much about their perspective of the Mapuche conflict – why are we killing, segmenting and continually degrading the only group of people who are defending our rivers, mountains, glaciers and forests from our alarming pollution? And again, to show our perspective. If you put a tank in the door of my house, if you settle without any evidence, if you shoot my children just for being indigenous, if you call me a terrorist for defending the land which we all need to remain here, among many other outrages sustained over the last 500 years of systematic deprivation, the anger is expectable.

We try, then, to speak, to generate, a debate around this problematic issue which is so little discussed by the media, or let’s say, in which there is so much misinformation.

Photo by Charlie Duffield
Photo by Charlie Duffield

Why do you think street art or graffiti is important, and do you know why it is concentrated in the zone of Barrio Brasil/Yungay?

I recently read that a city without graffiti is a city without history. Sharing this opinion, the Yungay area is full of history... maybe that is why there is so much work on their walls.

If people are interested in this topic, where can they find out more?

If you are interested in learning more about the world of murals and graffiti, you should definitely take the tour with us! It is a voluntary opportunity, so everyone can take it – we don’t discriminate against any pocket!

About the artists that work in Barrio Yungay, can you explain a little about their life/work/reputation?

They are many, but we say that the majority are dedicated in one way or another to painting murals as their first activity, and that almost all search to deliver a message within their work.

What is your favorite mural and why?

At this moment, I believe it is those of Paulo Ito en Brasil, alluding to the Football World Cup. They are great. The message is so brutally clear and yet so real and so hidden by the mainstream media.

Do you know much about street art in countries outside of Chile? What is the history of street art in Santiago or Chile?

I know very little but I think it is important, a life without art is a little wrong.

So, we invite you to take a look at our ‘Bicitur’ facebook, or our website www.bicitur.cl to be part of the experience. You will have a good time - this concerns life, after all!

Mondays to Fridays at 8:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00am
Plaza Brasil

Average: 5 (3 votes)

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