I am just back from a momentous three weeks at a street art festival in Cali, Colombia. Cali is a town which moves to the beat of Salsa, it’s everywhere and the people of Cali will begin to dance at the drop of a hat. Despite it’s troubled recent history of paramilitary guerrilla wars and drug cartels the people of Cali seem full of joy and optimism.
Selected to represent the UK in the international Biennale
I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the international artists for the 2nd Biennale of Murals and Pubic Art in the city of Cali. 67 Colombian Artists and 31 International Artists descended on the city to paint, mosaic and stencil the walls, each artist or team designing and completing their own piece.
An artwork for Reconciliation
We were asked to address the theme of Reconciliation, both in the context of the troubles in Colombia, from our own countries and internationally.
Inspired by South Africa
Thinking about the complex problems of reconciliation in such drawn out civil wars took me straightaway to South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was surely the epitome of a civilised act of reconciliation after the dismantling of Apartheid. Reading some of Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s comments on the process of reconciliation I was struck by the central importance of confronting the truth as the prerequisite to reconciliation. This sparked the first designs.
Creating an original design
After a couple of failed figurative designs I hit on this. I saw the truth as shedding light to reveal the goodness amongst the bad. I then started to look at some Colombian textile designs too.
A Street Fair…
The Biennale proved to be like a great fair with some of the mural painters and all the mosaic artists, representing Croatia, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and the USA working in marquees in one of the main city squares. Each day, as we worked in the tropical rain and sun, we were visited by schools, colleges and members of the public. Everyone was curious and happy to see us there. The tile was heavy glazed porcelain, similar to that I had used at the beginning of the year in Chile, hard to cut, this determined the feel of the mosaic. The mosaic work progressed each day in the square, the work and the piles of mosaic tile being left there overnight.
…and the appearance of ‘La Puerta’
Then one morning, about halfway through the mosaic, I arrived to find that overnight somebody had carefully spelt out the word ‘La Puerta’, (The Door) on my stand using the left over shards of tile. I took this as both an omen and a revelation – Of course, ‘La Puerta’, Truth is the doorway to reconciliation, so the work found a title.
Meeting the artists – an inspiration
But the Street Art Festival wasn’t just about the artists bringing our art to the streets of Cali, it was also about bringing together artists from around the world, from different cultures and backgrounds, different ages and artistic traditions. All with a commitment and love of art in public spaces. This coming together was inspirational and energising, many of us knew each other just from books or seeing each others work on the streets, great international artists like INTI from Chile, TA55O from Germany and Steep from Ecuador and Colombian artists team Ink Crew. We talked, drank and danced salsa together, and I have come away with a new dedication to art on the street as a truly democratic and alive art-form,
In the words (attributed) of Banksy when he was asked if street art was becoming as important as gallery art
“No… It’s far more important than that”.
Another opening door…
INTI’s mural for the street art biennale in Colombia – a master in concept, design and execution, INTI’s work shows just what can be done, opening a new door of inspiration.
And here it is, the completed mosaic
La Puerta – Verdad/Truth is the doorway to reconciliation
If only every city could have a festival like this…