With the election this month of an Argentine pope, Argentina was briefly put under an international spotlight. The news cycle has since moved on, but the political issues roiling the country remain, and they are narrated all over the country’s urban walls.
The word graffiti comes from the Italian graffiato, meaning “scratched.” In Argentina, graffiti puts politics in public places for public consideration, communicating present conflict as well as past grievances. With a bit of context, graffiti enables an informed viewer to bear witness to past and present political realities.
In the United States, a common form of graffiti is a “tag”—a painted inscription of the pseudonym of the graffiti artist onto a wall or any available surface. In Argentina, while tags exist, it is more common to see graffiti with a political message. The sheer quantity of political graffiti is shocking to any visitor to the country. It is literally everywhere: on public, private and government buildings; bridges; underpasses; and even across the front of people’s houses or on their windows.
Pausing to understand the meanings of these hasty scribbles opens a window into understanding Argentina’s political issues and the ways frustrated citizens, particularly younger ones, are grappling with them. The walls truly do speak.
These graffiti photos are from ten different cities in the northernmost regions of Argentina in the provinces of Jujuy and Salta. They were taken in December 2012.
In Argentina, the past is very present. There is a substantial amount of graffiti that reflects deep dissatisfaction with historical events and the ways in which they are still resonate.
Argentine graffiti frequently includes the words milicos (military) and asesinos (murderers), accompanied by the name of a political figure.
This graffito makes the claim that many supposed perpetrators of crimes during Argentina’s dictatorship (1976–83) have gone unpunished to this day. During the dictatorship, a period that came to be known as the Dirty War, military officials and members of the Junta made over 30,000 members of Argentina’s political opposition ‘disappear’. The military accused the opposition of forming a terrorist movement in support of communism, and launched a campaign to eliminate its supporters. Many of these opposition members were later discovered to have been murdered by the regime in camps set up throughout the country by the Argentina’s military leadership, also known as the Junta. Because of the continued military threat during and after the country’s transition to democracy, hundreds of military leaders and supporters of the regime who committed such crimes were never brought to trial.