Brushes of change: Bogotá’s murals and graffiti, By Osmund Agbo

We continued the bicycle journey towards the iconic Chorro de Quevedo square. This historic spot was said to be the founding site of Bogota, and its graffiti-covered walls narrated the city’s evolution throughout the centuries. A sense of appreciation of Bogota’s cultural depth enveloped me as we took in the stories displayed through the street art.

Each time I am confronted with bizarre and outlandish stories emanating from Nigeria, such as the absurd tale of a money-eating snake, my stomach fills up with bile. Philomena Chieshe, the account clerk at the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) knows Nigeria too well. In February 2019, keenly aware of the prevailing state of affairs in the country, in which impunity often shields those willing to share their ill-gotten gains with the powerful, she concocted an insultingly ludicrous explanation and presented us with the preposterous account of a spiritual snake absconding with N36 million in cash.

As a habitual practice, I find solace in confiding my exasperations with my friend, Farooq Kperogi, undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s most influential newspaper columnists. It is often said that a problem shared is a problem halved, and it certainly feels better after we both take turns in pouring out our frustrations, enough to fill the entire book of lamentations.

Farooq has been a seasoned journalist for nearly three decades, dedicating his writings and commentaries to shed light on the Nigerian situation. Yet, there are moments when we both succumb to what I now term as “commentary fatigue” – a state of frustration stemming from the apparent lack of tangible change, despite our relentless efforts at educating and sensitising our fellow citizens, in order to reclaim our country from unscrupulous elements.

But what is the underlying issue? Why does it seem that, despite interventions from individuals like Farooq, nothing substantially changes? I believe that part of the answer lies in the fact that the majority of readers of such columns are the privileged elite, at least by Nigeria’s standards. Regrettably, a critical mass of revolutionary-minded plebeians, who bear the brunt of the prevailing economic and social injustices in Nigeria, is hardly reached through the medium of writing.


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This issue so described is not peculiar to Nigeria and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Even advanced nations of the West experience similar problems of getting messages across to their people through books and other reading materials. Some societies, however, have seemingly discovered more effective ways of connecting with and enlightening the masses. My recent trip to Bogota, the capital city of Colombia in South America, enlightened me to this fact.

On that sunny Sunday morning, I joined a group of other adventure-seeking tourists to explore this artistic district known for its famous wall murals. La Candelaria is a vibrant neighbourhood nestled in the heart of Bogota and it is known for its labyrinth of cobbled streets and colonial architecture. It was a bicycle tour, and eager to immerse ourselves in the vibrant culture of the city, we set off on our two-wheeled journey.

As we pedaled through the narrow streets of La Candelaria, I couldn’t help but feel captivated by the colourful facades and artistic atmosphere. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of street music created a delightful backdrop for the adventure.

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Our first stop was at a bustling street corner adorned with a massive mural. The vivid hues and intricate details of the art work brought the country’s rich history to life, showcasing its indigenous roots, colonial past, and modern aspirations. From political messages to abstract masterpieces, the murals represented a myriad of emotions and ideologies. I was moved by the empowering message of one particular grafitti that depicted the struggles and triumphs of Colombian women.

Murals in South America have a long and diverse history, dating back to pre-Columbian civilisations such as the Maya, Aztec, and Inca. These ancient cultures used murals as means of visual storytelling, portraying religious beliefs, historical events, and daily life activities. With the arrival of European colonisers, mural art in South America underwent a transformation, incorporating new artistic styles and themes.

We continued the bicycle journey towards the iconic Chorro de Quevedo square. This historic spot was said to be the founding site of Bogota, and its graffiti-covered walls narrated the city’s evolution throughout the centuries. A sense of appreciation of Bogota’s cultural depth enveloped me as we took in the stories displayed through the street art.

As the afternoon sun began to dip, followed by a light drizzle, we reluctantly made our way back to the bicycle rental shop, cherishing the memories we had collected. The murals, street art, and the bustling energy of the neighbourhood had left an indelible mark in me.

Murals in South America have a long and diverse history, dating back to pre-Columbian civilisations such as the Maya, Aztec, and Inca. These ancient cultures used murals as means of visual storytelling, portraying religious beliefs, historical events, and daily life activities. With the arrival of European colonisers, mural art in South America underwent a transformation, incorporating new artistic styles and themes.

However, it was during the 20th century that murals in South America truly flourished as a form of artistic expression and resistance. Inspired by Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco, South American artists started to use murals as a medium to communicate powerful messages of social justice, political dissent, and national pride.

This period of artistic renaissance coincided with various political movements across the continent, such as the Cuban Revolution, Chilean Nueva Canción movement, and the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. Murals served as visual narratives, recounting the struggles, hopes, and aspirations of the people.

During the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century, the Mexican muralist movement emerged as a form of social protest and national identity. Artists like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco painted large-scale murals that depicted the struggles of the Mexican people and advocated for social justice and land reform. Their art served as a rallying cry for the masses, inspiring unity and revolutionising Mexico’s cultural and political landscape. But it’s not only in South-America that visual arts have inspired actions; examples abound in other cultures.

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The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 by East Germany to separate East and West Berlin, became a canvas for graffiti artists expressing their opposition to the division and oppression. The wall became covered in colourful murals and graffiti, conveying messages of freedom, hope, and unity. As public sentiment grew against the wall and the regime it represented, the graffiti became a powerful symbol of resistance.

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During the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020, art, including graffiti and murals, played a significant role in expressing the protesters’ demands and aspirations. The “Lennon Walls” that emerged across the city were covered in colourful post-it notes, messages, and artwork. These walls became powerful symbols of the movement, showcasing the resilience and creativity of the protesters.

It’s my belief that when used as tools of protest, visual arts can amplify the messages of social movements and contribute to the momentum for positive transformation. A single graffiti depicting the cold-blooded murder of unarmed protesters at Lekki toll gate during the #EndSARS protest may inspire change much more than one million opinion articles condemning the ugly incident.

Also, during the Arab Spring uprisings in various Middle Eastern countries in 2011, visual art played a crucial role in expressing dissent and mobilising the masses. In Egypt, for example, the walls of Cairo and other cities were adorned with revolutionary graffiti, expressing the frustrations and aspirations of the people. This street art became a platform for voicing grievances against the government and calling for social and political change. It helped galvanise the public and provided a powerful visual language that transcended linguistic barriers.

Sub-Saharan Africa, a land rich in history and potential, has perplexed me with its apparent resistance to the transformative waves of socio-economic and political revolutions that sweep across other cultures. It is evident that our society yearns to liberate itself from the lingering chains of neo-colonialism, yet our citizens seem reluctant to take action, despite the constant deluge of social, economic, and political commentaries. Newspaper opinion pieces and editorials have tirelessly sought to shed light on the pressing issues, but the fruits of our efforts have been disappointingly modest.

The seeds of awareness we strive to sow, aiming to spark critical thinking and ignite individual acts of resistance and activism, often fall on unresponsive grounds. It leaves one questioning why our messages have not borne the fruit of widespread inspiration and transformation. Perhaps it is time to rethink our approach and consider the untapped potential of alternative channels that have proven to be effective.

In our fervent pursuit of change, we may have inadvertently overlooked the power of unconventional means of reaching the hearts and minds of our people. While ink on paper has long been a potent tool of communication, it is essential to recognise that the modern era offers us a myriad of avenues to connect with the masses.

Visual arts, including murals, graffiti, and other forms, on the other hand, may be in a better position to drive home the message and could potentially be the game-changer here. Instead of writing pages upon pages on the ills of corruption, a mural that depicts the huge cost of corruption, for example, will register much better in people’s minds and inspire efforts to fight the evil of corruption. After all, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

It’s my belief that when used as tools of protest, visual arts can amplify the messages of social movements and contribute to the momentum for positive transformation. A single graffiti depicting the cold-blooded murder of unarmed protesters at Lekki toll gate during the #EndSARS protest may inspire change much more than one million opinion articles condemning the ugly incident.

The Nigerian artist clearly has his job cut out for him in today’s challenging times. Like his colleagues in Bogota, Mexico, Germany, Hong Kong, and the Middle East, he may be the missing link in our journey towards political, social, and economic transformation.

Osmund Agbo writes from Houston, Texas. Email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.


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