There are 43 districts in Lima. Barranco is one of them and, so far, Barranco is my favorite. At the end of the 19th century, all the rich Europeans decided to turn Barranco into a sunny beach vacation paradise, so they covered the district in stunning colored tiles and charming colonial houses with intricate wooden verandas. They took advantage of the green coastal overlooks and built a sturdy stone path through the district down to the sea, and crossing over that path they built the romantic Puente de Suspiros (“Bridge of Sighs”). For good measure, they constructed stunning “casonas” too in the Republican style, which still look like miniature palaces today despite their varying degrees of decay. In the early 20th century, the artists arrived and laid claim to the district, and unlike the Spanish, they never left. Writers, musicians, photographers, and especially painters are still present in bulk throughout Barranco.
In 2015, the district of Barranco organized a competition for potential murals poetically named “Las Paredes Hablan” (“The Walls Speak”): There were about 100 entries, and the top 10 were actually given public wall space to become a reality. Some of the winners from those top 10 are painted right along my route. That’s pretty representative of Barranco: It’s a weirdly vibrant ghost town, one foot solidly in the modern, hip, trendy present of a city of 9 million people, the other foot still sunk in the Spanish past, when European wealth was on parade in a cozy beach neighborhood. It’s why you get places like the mansion below a block down from dudes in black meme-themed t-shirts serving a hipster reinvention of fried chicken.
It would be impossible to cover all the street art in Barranco in just one blog, so I decided to take you on a walk to my local grocery store. Sometimes, via Instagram and aggressive Googling, I’ve been able to find out a little about some of the murals and their artists. For a lot of my favorites though, things are still a mystery. If you’re a reader who happens to know anything about any of the murals, please tell me more!
Metro is less than 10 minutes away from our apartment by foot, but there’s still a packed agenda of murals. Right outside, the rec center features a long mural of fish, flowers, and ocean stretching down its side.
Not much further along, I run into an angry pink coy fish accompanied by an incredible portrait of a fisherman. The artist is Abraham Portocarrero, also apparently known as Yandy Graffer for no reason other than he likes the way the pseudonym looks (which I guess seems like a good enough reason for a graffiti/mural artist). I really love his style, the way everything swirls and moves to embody his watery themes. Although this is the only mural I’ve been able to find of his, I read that another of his murals placed second in the Barranco competition.
Tragically, I have no information to impart on Barranco’s octopus. Unburdened by context, he soars contentedly through the skies alongside a flock of crows (or, more likely, gallinazos).
None of the graffiti has been more irritating to research than these guys. I see these bubbly little bears all over Lima, but after like 2 hours of groaning over Google (which perpetually led me to a useless Tumblr account), I can only report that they’re associated with the hashtags UnderDogz, UnderDogCrew, Osin, and Osiosin. Also whoever makes these apparently likes to write the word “Soak” a lot in all capital letters. That’s all I’ve got.
Covered up behind the bear you can see a “Peruvian FLAKE” tag. The remnants of one are underneath the blue paint on the large blue face graffiti just below too. These damn tags are EVERYWHERE, to the point that I was hoping it was some kind of aggressive underground movement of freedom fighters, etc. Nope. According to their Facebook page, which reads like an auto-generated set of buzz words, Peruvian FLAKE is “a 100% pure modern lifestyle brand that embodies counter culture” and makes “haute street couture clothing.”
Again, I’ve got nothing. I don’t know if this little dude is associated with the Osin bears, but he looks a little less smug about not revealing his secrets.
Ah, a total mystery despite all the clues on it. In one corner it says “Buen viaje” (have a nice trip), in the bottom left corner it seems to have a signature (Vane? Jane? Yane?), and in the opposite corner (cut off in this photo) it says “malas y juntas” (roughly, “bad and together”, specifically in reference to ladies). But I don’t even know what’s behind the door. Hopefully not a strip club. That would be embarrassing.
This intricate pattern is called a “mandala”: Go ahead. Make your own day and google image search “mandalas”. A mandala is (to squish a vast symbolic history into a single sentence) an Indian symbol representing the universe. This one was made by visiting artist Rye Quartz of a San Francisco street art agency in conjunction with Domingo Art Gallery, a local agency.
I’m pretty proud of digging this graffiti up: The artist who designed the stencil is Renzo González, and it’s a logo for the Hensley bar, a skater bar in Lima. The skull isn’t holding a dumbbell in his mouth, it’s riding (?) a set of skateboard wheels. Or it stole the wheels off some dude’s board and is flying away with them. Either way I think I’d need four or five more visible piercings before I’d feel at home in the bar.
The parking lot for Metro is framed by a long brick wall facing the main street, and Diego Cornejo (also known as Seimiek) painted the bright mural that covers it. Appropriately, his mural won the side category in the Barranco competition for “Most Creative”, in a rough translation of the prize description. Crocodiles banjo it out next to guitar-strumming cats. Pigs blast horns in the background of a landscape that could be a forest, an ocean, outer space or all of the above. A galactic, glittering octopus worms his tentacles through the whole scene.
“Understanding and Protection” by JADE Rivera won first place in the Barranco competition. Technically located on a wall just past Metro, this mural didn’t click for me until I found the title: It’s about compassion and empathy, and probably sustainability too. The man is protecting the bird, and while doing so, he’s wearing a transparent bird mask, symbolizing his efforts to see from the animal’s perspective. As bright and stylized as some of the other murals are, I feel like this was a fair victory. It’s beautiful, thoughtful, melancholy, hopeful. All the colors are Peru’s colors, not their country colors, but their real, daily colors: browns, oranges, some pops of white and a stunning streak of blue. On top of that, the mural incorporates a lot of contemporary themes for Peru as it moves forward, from finding ways to incorporate their native culture into the city to coping with new environmental challenges.
Finally, after I’ve got my groceries in tow, if I’m feeling ambitious (or I get lost), I can always walk back along the coastline. If I do, there’s one last piece to spot, even if it does fall more on the side of “graffiti” versus “mural”: at some point, several brave graffiti soldiers scrambled down the rocky coast, where there are exactly zero safety features, to spray “LIMA LOVE” down the side of the generator.