A Father's Lament After Justin Bieber Graffiti Brouhaha
BOGOTA — The urge to wander the streets and feel the adrenaline rush that comes when painting on a public wall or bridge is condemned in our society, which has demonized this colorful art form and freedom of expression.
This is a fundamental right — to communicate through letters and images painted on surfaces that are otherwise cold and without expression. The finest wall comes to life with lines turned to art or just a “signature” visible to an unsuspecting passer-by.
These lines identify authors who wish to leave a trace, express themselves, and tell society “I’m here.” The artists and their work call attention to social inequalities and the causes of generalized indignation: poverty, bad government, hungry children, people dying in hospitals. Graffiti is a silent but all-powerful cry, and it creates social awareness.
Such manifestations on bridges, tunnels and public walls in Colombia’s major cities are, in short, a general protest against government and police authorities for their double standards and hostility to home-grown urban artists dismissed as mere vandals.
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The police who have mercilessly turned young Colombians into military targets are the same authorities who apparently now perceive the childish, infantile, school-boy tracings of a foreign pop star a legitimate work of art. They even prepared him a spot, usually restricted to local graffiti, where the idol could express his rebellious feelings before a nation's youth eager for someone to admire.
It was more a novelty act on singer Justin Bieber’s part than the expression of some deep idea, yet the head of the Bogotá Metropolitan Police described it as art. The National Police chief told a radio station, “We have to evolve. Graffiti expresses a feeling or motivation. It is an artistic expression. Those painting graffiti want to tell us something, and we have to listen.”
They weren’t listening, though, when a certain young man named Diego Felipe Becerra went out with his friends in August 2011 and painted his beloved Felix cats along street walls. He never dreamed that night would be his last, that a policeman would shoot him dead for his actions.
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So perhaps now the police chief words appear wise, uncovering as they do the reality of graffiti as a form of art within society — and accomplishing as well a diplomatic, if weak, response to the storm of criticisms the Bieber incident provoked across the Internet social networks in Colombia.
Young artists are justly demanding equality from authorities and respect for the right to freely express themselves. They want a law that will help them create spaces where they can display their art without risking punishment, police apprehension — or death by police handgun.
* Gustavo Trejos is the father of Diego Felipe Becerra, a young graffiti artist who was killed by Bogota police on Aug. 19, 2011.