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Graffiti artists: the invisible teachers

When the thinker Walter Benjamin reflected on the character of the 19th century Parisian art collector, and in particular, highlighted his fetish for the transformation of his interior space, with the emotional (useless?)l accumulation of works, he launched an implacable conclusion: "to inhabit means to leave a trace". And although the walls of Paris were decades away from being filled with slogans and poems, it is inevitable -and essential- to consider that Benjamin's words could be superimposed on the current need to understand graffiti -and its docile colleague, urban art- as alternative (and primary) tools for learning the new "habitations" proposed, suggested -and even forced- by the contemporary city.

However, for the learning exercise to be possible and not to get spoiled in the same common places as always: religious illegality, aesthetic tastes and ideological appetites, it will suffice to amplify the universe of graffiti understanding from the (uncomfortable and disturbing) scratch to the (applauded and photogenic) mural. Indeed, the premise ceases to evaluate the materiality of what is expressed and moves to a much more panoramic analysis: the gesture of intervening the street or public space. Whoever, wherever and however it is. For this reason, in this text I will use the word graffiti and graffiti artists as intact and interchangeable synonyms of urban art and urban artist.

Additionally, it is necessary to place the graffiti artist in a new dimension: the invisible teacher (a figure frequently mentioned by Professor Antanas Mockus). Although his protagonism is not reduced in the urban experience, of course, it is transformed. To that extent, the introductory lesson that -unintentionally- is given to us by those who intervene the street, is a demonstration of how the city can (should?) be inhabited from a more committed, nervous and experiential perspective. The footprint is none other than an emotional and practical manifestation of an understanding of public space as a place with an evident -and urgent- potential for transfiguration. Everyone's city is the city that everyone can transform; just like those children's games where the pieces were the beginning of an exercise of creation that entailed a certain and fleeting authorship: the city is mine. The city is ours.

However, a closer look at the graffiti artist's exercise reveals -without much effort- its true pedagogical substance: the organic and immediate capacity to serve as a moderator of social dialogues. In other words, by intervening in the city, the graffiti artist suggests a new agenda for conversation on topics or characters that they consider important or also and in a certain way neglected by the public debate (almost always predictable and organized exclusively by economic interests). In this sense, and hence the protagonist importance of graffiti in the renewal and rethinking of social dialogues; the graffiti artist proposes and makes available to the public messages (which could well be called triggers) about his own vision of what surrounds him (his emotional experience par excellence).

Consequently, urban art is articulated in the process of shaping citizenship as a balm to reduce confrontation and indifference to the public universe. The artistic experience since the Greek teachers was considered necessary as an exercise of recognition: a human fiction that teaches us through representation (the imagined world) to situate ourselves in our own existences. To cry without crying.

Therefore, if scenarios or learning opportunities were created or arranged (the recognized pedagogical balances of Mockus) where the relationship between the community and the graffiti artist would be strengthened and carved from trust, interlocution and collective execution (and the aged citizen pacts), it is very possible that the private and collective capacity to understand and explain the other (empathy), would have another alternative to consolidate itself. Of course, such actions would not be novel, and have already been implemented with diverse results in Bogota and the rest of the country, which in any case has allowed recognizing and confirming the primary need of contemporary society: to find -at last- its true and genuine spokespersons. Moving from suspicion to resignification: graffiti artists as visible teachers. To unite from experience, as Benjamin also said, the one who tells the story with the one who listens to it.


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