Walking around the city of Oaxaca it may seem like there is a disproportionate amount of street art for such a small town. And indeed it may not be obvious why.
Spreading messages by painting them on walls has been a long tradition in Mexico, but it really exploded in Oaxaca just as recently as 2006. This was when the peaceful annual teachers’ strike during the school summer break was broken up by police in riot gear using tear gas and rubber bullets. Many were injured and there was widespread public anger directed at the state government as a result.
It was then that street art became an important medium for making the public aware of the abuse of power and corruption in the government, and for spreading the word of dissent. Since then, some local artists such as Lapiztola (a portmanteau of the words for pencil and pistol) even received such international attention to exhibit their works in London in 2015, which you can read about on the Guardian here. Here’s a brief overview of where to see Oaxaca street art nowadays.
Just to the east of the centre of town, the residential district of Jalatlaco may not seem like the most obvious place to spot street art. Nonetheless, there are some pieces if you look out for them.
Mostly in black and white, they do not pop out immediately, but instead reward the observant wanderer.
The highest concentration of street art in Oaxaca is probably in the streets around the city’s largest square and church: Santo Domingo.
Many pieces here are monochromatic, or with minimal use of colour, and are prints that have been plastered on the wall.
Presumably this was done by artists to save time and avoid being caught and fined for painting on private property.
The area immediately to the west of the centre of Oaxaca in the direction of the Guelaguetza Auditorium is the small, quiet neighourhood of Peñasco, leaning up the hill.
Here you’ll find some large intricate pieces of street art with a very intentional use of colour. This was one of my favourites.
Bonus: La Calera
Way out of the centre of town, this is not a place many tourists come, unless they’re staying there. This former factory has now been converted into a huge art space with several apartments or small houses for rent on Airbnb. We stayed here for the week we spent in Oaxaca (use this link to sign up to Airbnb and get £30/$37/€35 credit off your first booking) and it was really nice to be away from the bustle of downtown but still be surrounded by art.
There are two entrances to the grounds, a public one on Calle Juan Escutia, some 10 blocks north of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad along Calle Niños Héroes, and a private one a couple of blocks further north on Calle 13 de Septiembre, which is only accessible to guests staying at one of the apartments. Most taxi drivers will take you to the first one, which has some street art outside it, but isn’t the most convenient to actually get inside the former factory.
Have you been to Oaxaca? What’s your favourite part of the town for street art?