From the Conservation International Blog:
On Streets of Bogotá, Graffiti Art Raises Environmental Awareness
Last year, CI’s visual storytelling team traveled to Colombia to document graffiti artists in Bogotá. Street art is a popular and powerful mode of expression in the Colombian capital; recently, prominent street artists partnered with CI and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation to raise awareness about environmental issues while trying to steer young people away from drugs and crime. Today on the blog, one of them shares his most recent conservation-themed mural with us.
David “Wap” Suarez (top right) poses with his mural-painting team. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
My name is David Suarez, and I am 29 years old. I have spent 13 of those years painting art on the streets of Bogotá under the pseudonym “Wap.”
I started drawing during childhood; probably due to the amount of anime and cartoons that I watched and collected, I started to lean toward illustration and art. I saw graffiti in videos and movies that I watched at that time (1997-98), and I was struck by the letters, colors, culture — and above all, the fact that it could be painted on the street where everyone could see it.
Some time went by before I got access to my first spray-paint cans to make my first piece, which was a total disaster. But I kept trying, learning from various painting and drawing techniques, color theory, etc. Finally in 2004, I and another street artist founded a group called “dot exe crew” — one of the most important in the history of graffiti in Bogotá.
David “Wap” Suarez working on a mural in Bogotá. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
We started painting murals not only thinking about the stylistic letters and use of color, but we also began to experiment with illustration of narrative and story, taking our graffiti concepts to a more professional and artistic level. This technique became popular among other taggers/artists during that time. This is how I came to paint the first mural on biodiversity, as well as work for corporate brands.
Parallel to this, in the eastern hills of Bogotá’s Chapinero neighborhood where I live, I helped to found Artes Urbanas (Urban Arts) with friends and local school districts that were involved in various manifestations of hip-hop culture. Artes Urbanas was a youth club that provided young people with a space to be creative and avoid getting involved in drugs and crime. There, I taught screening, airbrushing and drawing.
This project was very successful, and we were immediately exposed to many institutions and foundations that wanted to support us — including CI, with whom we began painting murals under the water ecosystem restoration project in Chapinero. These themes began to interest me more and more, so I started to do murals on these subjects independently.
After seven years of work with Artes Urbanas, due to some differences with members of the youth club, I left and the project died. It left me with great experiences and precedents, as art is my life. I continued painting murals on wildlife trafficking, on the Amazon, on the eastern hills of Bogotá, and other issues that don’t have anything to do with the environment but are part of the reality of my city.
Recently, I received the news that CI wanted to provide a grant to Artes Urbanas to paint a mural on the primates of Colombia. As Artes Urbanas was no longer, the solution was to divide the grant between two people for the preparation of two murals on endemic species of primates.
David “Wap” Suarez and his team working on a mural depicting the primates of Colombia in Bogotá. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
For issues of conflicting interests and limited time and budget, I was not able to go to the Amazon to meet my primate brothers in person. However, I received my half of the grant and did my best to maximize the resources I had to paint the mural. I researched everything about Colombia’s primates on the Internet. CI provided me with a copy of their scientific book “Primates of Colombia” and other sources of information. And so I painted a huge mural of nearly 10 feet in height and about 100 feet in length in a busy area of Bogotá. My team and I are very grateful to CI for believing in and supporting our art.
My newest project, called “Factory of Ideas” has to do with restoring public spaces and taking up some of the projects developed with Artes Urbanas. I’m painting murals continuously; since the primates of Colombia mural, I have made two more and I hope to continue painting for much longer.
As for people who took the time to read this humble street story, my message to you is to care for the environment and support the arts — if not financially, then at least by respecting their importance. We should focus on making our environment something positive for everyone, just as I’ve been trying to do all this time.
David “Wap” Suarez is a street artist in Bogotá, Colombia.
Read a version of this post in Spanish here (scroll down).
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