YOUNG artists in the Colombian capital city of Bogotá and Coventry have been sharing their views about where they live as part of a UK City of Culture scheme.
The art collective – conducted through spray cans, paintbrushes and Zoom calls – has seen a huge mural created reflecting the difficulties and celebrating the positives of mass protests in public spaces.
The mural, entitled ‘Stand Strong’, is part of a dialogue with a group of artists in Coventry, 5,000 miles away, which has already seen the creation of street art at FarGo Village as part of the Coventry UK City of Culture Youthful Cities programme, supported by the British Council.
The Bogotá mural is located in the city’s Bronx Distrito Creativo and is over 150sq metres in size.
And, just as the Coventry mural contains an image of one of the Colombian artists, reference to the Coventry collective has been painted into the Colombian piece, ‘Stand Strong’.
It has been supported by the Colombian Culture Ministry and Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendañois and depicts people dancing in a public space in a burst of colour, energy, and expressiveness.
Camilo Fidel López, Director of Vértigo Graffiti which led the project in Bogotá, said: “For many young people in Colombia, economic struggles and existential uncertainty have been overwhelming.
“Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults have protested in the streets in the last year, taking over public space.
“This group of young artists were desperate to give a legacy to the frustrations and expectations of these events, and thanks to this project, they have been able to do so through a conversation with their peers in the UK.”
The two groups of young artists, aged between 18 and 25, met virtually in the lead-up to painting their murals to share their views and ideas about art and their lives.
The cohort from Bogotá explained their need to show older generations the significance of being able to inhabit and share public spaces freely, as well as to symbolise and commemorate the protests, including demonstrations against a controversial tax reform, in a meaningful way.
The characters within the Bogotá mural are diverse, with the Colombian cohort passionate about representation particularly around the inclusion of transgender and non-binary people in the mural. The young artists involved felt strongly these communities had led to change and peaceful protest and had been supported by younger generations who stood in solidarity with them.
The Coventry project, which has been led by arts organisations Graffwerk and Jay McKeown, with support from the British Council, is part of the wider In Paint We Trust programme. It portrays a number of scenes and characters representative of Coventry, its sense of pride in place and strength in difference across the city centre. The Coventry-based street artists were also inspired by the mixed background of the city, which has been marked by destruction and rebirth as well as solidarity.
Machila McKeever, one of the Coventry cohort, created a design which looked back at Coventry’s past but with a contemporary twist, with a modern day Lady Godiva responding in solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement. The design is based on the Lady Godiva statue at the centre of the city.
She said: “I’ve tried to make Lady Godiva’s image more current with what’s going on today, even though it’s an old story I feel it’s relevant to now. I’ve given her tattoos, made her look that bit more punky.
“I felt as a woman myself I could relate to the story. Recent Black Lives Matter protestors in Coventry met at the statue and left their protest boards on it following the protest – it became a heart of the protest.”
Tom Birtwistle, Country Director Colombia, British Council, added: “Cities are home to millions of people, but they need to feel like a home too.
“Public art does that – it builds the identity of place, it humanises our surroundings and helps make where we live feel unique, like it’s our own.
“I love that these murals will make people in Coventry and Bogota feel unique together, showing we can share culture and be connected by art despite living thousands of miles apart.”
Izzy Hoskins, Graffwerk, said: “It was great to work with young artists in Coventry and Bogota to develop a mural celebrating their stories and relationships with the cities in which they live”.
The new murals in Bogotá and Coventry are set to be visual testimonies of young people’s creative skills, dialogue and presence in public spaces beyond the City of Culture programme year.
It is their hope that opportunities for other young people to create and communicate in the public realm become more common in Coventry, Bogotá and beyond.
The two groups are now working to document their own creative skills, process and discussion through a collaborative zine that will form a record of the conversations that informed this project.