Written on the Wall: Latin American Street Storytellers from Muralismo to Graffiti


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Director of the New Zealand Centre for Latin American Studies at The University of Auckland, Dr Walescka Pino-Ojeda presents a lecture 'Written on the Wall: Latin American Street Storytellers from Muralismo to Graffiti'.

The 'Crisis of representation' is a concept that today describes a general social and political scenario in South America which arose from the citizens’ sense of unease and distrust with respect to official and institutional bodies responsible for protecting their full participation in collective affairs. The need to be well 'represented' extends as well to the arts: that is, to the depiction of people’s unique social values and aspirations, necessarily involving their capacity and opportunity for 'self-representation'.

Political, social and artistic representation, then, seem to go hand-in-hand: the less political presence and influence a particular social group has, the less access the citizenry will have to their own voice and stories. In Latin America’s visual arts, the clearest attempt to represent those sectors of society previously excluded from both political and artistic representation is introduced by Mexican Muralism. Emerging amidst the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), the stories and struggles of indigenous nations, peasants and workers took center stage. This focus would be further revitalized in the context of the decolonization processes taking place between the 1950s and the70s, which reached a peak when in 1970 the first socialist president was democratically elected in Chile. In this period, street walls became the canvas on which grassroots artists depicted their own stories, now without the mediation of academic artists. This turn to self-representation has become today even more evident with the widespread development of a graffiti culture. Contrary to the social energy behind the grassroots murals of the 1950s–70s, today’s graffiti seem to represent quite individualist stories and aspirations.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In this presentation, the journey throughout the history of Latin America over the past century will serve to illustrate to what extent today’s street storytellers continue to be preoccupied with representing collective aspirations, but in the context of neoliberalism, where they no longer enjoy the social goals and forces that energized their predecessors.

Auditorium, lower ground level

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