One of the first things that stood out to me on my first drive down into La Paz from the El Alto airport was, aside from the astounding number of stray dogs, the impressive amount of street art on nearly every vertical surface. In El Alto most of the street art that I have seen tends to be politically oriented, for example lots of white script reading “Si, con Evo”, supporting President Evo Morales. Many of these “tags” have been commandeered by people who have a less than positive opinion of President Morales, and a diagonal line has been added, connecting the tips of the “S” in “Si, con Evo”, forming a symbol resembling the red circle with the diagonal line inside it like the ones found on “no smoking” signs. As you move further down into the city the art becomes much more inventive, and one can see massive, intricate murals depicting everything from famous movie characters, to figures of indigenous pride, to psychedelic aliens. In La Paz it is quite obvious that the local government does not mind that there is so much street art; I have even heard tell that the government sometimes pays for the creation of artistic murals in order to minimize the prominence of the politically charged ones. This is quite surprising to me considering how “graffiti” is seen in most of the biggest U.S. cities.
Here in La Paz street art serves as a perfect conduit for self expression; a way not only to push for political sentiments but also simply to express artistic talent on one collective urban canvas. As I bumble through the city in the crowded minibuses and look at the ever-present street art, I feel that the way street art changes from neighborhood to neighborhood tells me a great deal about people, young and old alike, in each place. The vibrant street art adds a degree of color to the city that I have not seen in most United States cities. Color in the sense of its most basic meaning, as well as color in the sense that the art conveys the feelings, personalities, and dynamism of the citizens who call this impressively spirited city home.