The Strange and the Beautiful
Santiago is a big city, and like all big cities, it can show you a number of sides. It is broken down into barrios, each of which lends its own character to the greater culture. There is Barrio Bellavista, at present a fashionable enclave whose sordid past is attached to it like a long, dark shadow. And there is Barrio Lastarría, on the other side of the Río Mapocho, with its intellectualism, refined tastes, and popular restaurants. Finally, there is Barrio Brasil, a neighborhood of low-rises and reclaimed property. Here, you will find cobblestone streets, low brick buildings, and provocative street art spray-painted onto walls, signs, and sidewalks.
After the fall of Pinochet, many neighborhoods ceded to wide-scale restructuring, which often led to homogeneous architectural styles. Towers grew into a formidable skyline and the romance that poets wrote about was left on the fringes. Somehow, Barrio Brasil survived the sweeping changes. In the 1990s, bohemians moved in; they transformed old auto garages into art shops, designed trendy cafés and bars, and put their art on the walls like graffiti.
We spent most of our time in this neighborhood, Barrio Brasil, often going on long walks to explore the radical street art. While our impressions of Santiago on the whole were perhaps skewed by the amount of time we wasted looking for work, we nevertheless agreed that wandering the gridded backstreets of Barrio Brasil left us with indelible memories of Chile. Street art is Chile. Street art is Santiago. And while Valparaíso has earned a reputation for being a sort of artistic Mecca, Barrio Brasil deserves some hype, too.
The rising number of eccentric artists that have left their mark on this neighborhood—many of whom make it their home, as well—speaks of its to value to the progressive youth culture in Santiago. Street art of the kind found throughout Barrio Brasil recalls the country’s most famous art—the language of Neruda, the colors of Catasse. I was totally captivated by the contrast between run-down buildings and the shocking designs that were sprayed on them. I could feel words pouring out of the paint. Every mural was really expressive, and as the title suggests, strange and beautiful. They were packed with emotion and rife with secret messages.
The medium may have changed, but the fact remains: Santiago will always be a city of intellectuals; it will always be a city whose culture moves like a heart beating beneath skin.