Valparaíso: A Painted City

POSTED: Saturday, January 12, 2019



Spending a day walking the streets of Valparaíso is like living in a giant art gallery. Just two hours away from Santiago, Valparaíso stretches gently over 42 hills that frame a working port and choppy sea. At every street corner, you are bombarded with colour, ingenious design and creativity. At first glance, enormous murals catch and hold the eye but, if you look closer, tiny details - doodles, torn posters and the rough texture of countless stickers contribute just as vitally to the beauty of this city. This living and breathing sketchbook is a must-see for art lovers everywhere!



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Graffiti and street art are one of many creative outlets pouring from the city. Strolling along the seafront, I chanced upon a samba band and at least twenty dancers rehearsing with total abandon and utter joy. Yard-bombing, mosaics and sculpture contribute unique textures, and jugglers and street performers jostle at every traffic light. As evening sets in live music and dancing spill out into the technicolour streets. 



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The street art movement in Valparaíso began in earnest in the 1960s. Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda encouraged local artists and activists to campaign for reform artistically; through colourful and eye-catching murals in place of political posters. Street artists from all over South America, particularly Mexico flocked to Valparaíso as Neruda’s endorsement increased its global renown. The politically charged nature of the art is still intensely apparent today, with subtle and creative political messages infusing the riot of colour. Artist Mataka, for example, often portrays the beauty of Mapuche culture, as part of the current political movement in pursuit of rights for indigenous peoples. 



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Neruda found refuge from exile and political persecution in Valparaíso in 1948. Upon his return to Chile, he lived with his wife in La Sebastiana, his eccentric house which is now open to the public as a museum. He wrote several poems about Valparaíso, and his ode to the city truly captures its chaotic, shabby and vivid nature. “Valparaíso, what an absurdity you are, how crazy: a crazy port. What a head of dishevelled hills, that you never finished combing. Never did you have time to dress yourself, and always you were surprised by life.” 



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Graffiti continues to flourish in Valparaíso today partly because the local government, businesses and homeowners support street art culture. Unlike the rest of Chile, street art is legal in Valparaíso and so restaurants, hostels, bars and cafés commission artists to adorn their walls. The system thrives because of mutual respect between the artists who will not paint over another artist’s creation. Therefore, by collaborating with graffiti artists, local proprietors are able to have some creative control over their walls. Valparaíso is now listed as a UNESCO cultural heritage site and has recently received an influx of government funding intended to protect and encourage the incredible artistic culture that flourishes in this vibrant and dynamic and port town. 



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