The street art of Valparaíso: A true museum to heaven
Valparaíso is a city that is unique in its class. Its labyrinthine framework marked by passages, elevators and stairs, its eclectic architecture and its neighborhoods on multiple hills amaze all those who visit it.
It’s the capital of the region that bears the same name and houses the main port of Chile, which is also one of the most important in the South Pacific. In 2003, Unesco declared the historic center of the city a World Heritage Site for many reasons. One of them is that the port of Valparaíso is considered a benchmark in the beginnings of globalization from the intercontinental trade that began to intensify at the end of the 19th century. Another reason is the morphology of its landscape, which resembles a huge amphitheater where each point of the old city overlooks the sea.
However, Valparaíso has other heritage treasures that are rarely mentioned officially and yet, it’s created a reputation that has crossed borders and attracts thousands of tourists every year, mainly young photographers or instagrammers in search of the best shots for their social network. We’re talking about the graffiti and murals, many of which have been made by artists of the highest level, both Chilean and foreign. So now you know that one of the best things you can do in Valparaíso is to take your camera and start touring this city-museum, either on your own or by joining a tour that shows you what is now known as La Ruta del Graffiti Porteño.
Where to start
In Valparaíso (as in all big cities) you’ll find neighborhoods that are more and less touristy. For this reason, especially if you’re staying for a short period of time, we recommend that you start by visiting the most emblematic neighborhoods, which is where the best hotel, gastronomic and nightlife offers also lie. To begin you can take a walk around the Puerto neighborhood (preferably by day), located in the flat area and near the sea. Take a tour of the squares Echaurren, Sotomayor and Wheelwright, as well as the Church of the Matrix and the Mercado Puerto. There you’ll see some works of legendary graffiti artists such as Cekis, Hes, Saile and the Ha Crew, who are already part of the history of Chilean muralism.
Then you can start climbing the hills, and in those same streets that ascend you will find more "exposed galleries" so to speak. There’s also the famous Plaza Anibal Pinto, from which the Cumming ascent and the Condell ascent rise. It’s a classic meeting point for all Bohemians and also a place crowded with murals that rotate out regularly, but all can remember some classics like those of Aislap, El Odio and Dana Pink.
Cerro Alegre and Concepción
Continuing with our tour, we recommend that you go directly to Cerro Alegre and from there you pass to Cerro Concepcion; without a doubt one of the most chic, arty and well-kept areas of all Valparaíso.
Now, if you want a 100% porteño and heritage experience, we recommend that you go up in the El Peral elevator that is located in Playa Sotomayor. As soon as you exit this elevator, you’ll stumble across works by some of the best-known Chilean and foreign muralists. In this neighborhood you can locate, for example, the famous INTI Castro, who has literally walked around the world making murals, and who only after gaining international fame was recognized by the cultural authorities in Valparaíso, his native city.
Other notable works that you’ll l find in the charming little streets of Cerro Alegre include La Robot de Madera, Claudio Dre, Un Kolor Distinto, Charquipunk, the Colombian Stink Fish, the Spanish Cuellimangui and the French Ella & Pitr.
Travel tip: When you're here, be sure to visit the Yugoslavian Promenade and its staircase full of tags, posters and stickers.
Valparaíso en Colores
Since we’ve mentioned Inti Castro, a famous Chilean artist who has transferred Latin American syncretism (especially that of the Andean culture) to muralism, we’d also like to take this opportunity to note one of the most important projects in which he has participated. We’re referring to Valparaíso en Colores, which is something like a "turn of the screw" of the Porteño Graffiti Route. This project, which has a permanent staff of five people and in which more than forty artists have collaborated with the support of the University of Valparaíso, aims to take mural art beyond the circuits normally frequented by tourists.
The premise behind this initiative is that all people like and are struck by art, as all feel the need to express themselves in an aesthetic key, different from everyday communication. The problem is that art is often circumscribed in exclusive spaces or restricted access. Hence the enormous potential of muralism and graffiti, phenomena that bring art closer to the neighborhoods and indirectly redistribute the income that comes from tourism by opening new circuits on the agenda of cities with heritage value.
Travel tip: If you want to admire some of the works that have emerged from this project that mixes mural art with the preservation of neighborhood identity, we recommend taking a walk around Cerro la Cruz, one of the most colorful parts of the port.
From Cerro Alegre, you’ll continue climbing until you reach San Luis Square, where (surprise!) there’s also graffiti. Once there, turn left on Avenida Alemania and go down to Cerro Cárcel, the adjoining neighborhood, whose name comes from the building of the Ex Prison of Valparaíso, today converted into an important cultural center.
In this sector you’ll find murals by the Chilean Dasic Fernández (who currently lives and paints in Brooklyn), the Belgian artist Roa, famous for his giant animals in black and white. There’s also a piece by the Australian Swaze and finally a mural by the Brazilian duo Pam and Tikka.
This sector takes the name of an important hospital located there. In the surrounding streets there are murals by renowned artists such as the Danish Soten and TIWS, and the French Kaput, as well as the locals 056 and UKD.
The Van Buren sector has two particularities that are worth mentioning: on the one hand, it’s comprised of a set of walls that combine both urban art and illegal graffiti, so that both the followers of one movement and the other will be appeased with a visit. Another characteristic of the sector is that it has many nooks and crannies that aren’t easy to recognize. For this reason, if you visit Van Buren we recommend that you join an urban art tour. Know that in Valparaíso there are many corridors in disuse, abandoned houses, hidden doors and old stairs. It’s in those places where some of the most valuable gems of muralism and porteño graffiti are hidden.
Cerro Polanco is part of what we could call "the deep Valparaíso". It includes a sector that formerly attracted almost no tourists. This was until 2012 when the girls of Crazys Crew organized an international graffiti meeting (Polanco GraffFestival) that filled the neighborhood with colors, including the blocks of buildings of Lechería, Larraín and Cerro Barón. Taking into account that Valparaíso is a city that depends largely on tourism, this initiative had very positive results, since it integrated a sector of the city that was commonly relegated and even stigmatized because it was considered a low-income neighborhood full of delinquency.
What’s more, once the graffiti tours began to circulate around the Polanco Hill, the building authorities began to prioritize various stagnant works in the public agenda, such as the improvement of lighting, paving of cobblestones, repairing the sidewalks, repairing the roofs of houses, etc. Then urban art in this context became part of a comprehensive project to improve urban equipment and social conditions of life.
Did you enjoy yourself?
If after going up and down stairs photographing the amazing murals of Valparaíso you haven’t been satisfied, then we recommend that you take a workshop and go from being a just a spectator to an actor in the world of urban art. There are many undertakings that nowadays combine both tours and mural painting classes, and many of these are taught by the artists themselves. These last ones are the ones we recommend the most, because who better than a porteño muralist to enter and get lost in this incredible labyrinth of colors?
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By: Brian Gray, Chilean anthropologist and muralist specializing in urban visual culture