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Nora's Argentina: Buenos Aires in Art

The jolt of the landing gear catching the concrete brought sighs of relief and a hushed excitement across the isles as the plane that had left Houston eleven hours earlier coasted to a slow roll on a foggy Buenos Aires runway.  For the first time a pause enveloped the conversation I had been carrying on in broken Spanish with the Argentine woman sitting next to me. Her name was Nora, and we had begun chatting in the early morning, high above a dark misty-green sea of Brazilian rainforest. We continued to talk as the sun began to rise well above the horizon, and forest gave way to a dense patchworks of fields and low-rise cities.
 Dawn on the Brazilian Amazon

She tried to gear me mentally for what I was about to experience. She warned me about seductive Argentine sirens, about fake money, the volatile economy, and instructed me on how to not make a cab drivers angry. But Nora is an artist, and for the majority of our conversation, we (she) talked about art.  She briefed me on the various art movements that have found their way to Argentine art palettes, from the custumbrismo of the 19th century to the street art of today, showed me some of her own work, and asked about the role that art plays in my life and in American society.  I, as most Americans likely would, struggled to find an answer.  While taxiing to our gate I jotted something down in my journal; “It is different…the sense of a higher level of culture already seems to have penetrated our capsulated aircraft.”

Since arriving in Buenos Aires I have learned that Nora is no exception.  Art is omnipresent here – sprawling across the walls of city blocks, growing out of the ground in large pillars and statues, and inked into tattoo sleeves on city-dwellers. Back home, museums are something you go begrudgingly to with a class or with your parents.  Here, they are places frequented by young students, for whom it is free to enter every Wednesday, and places left open every year on the 9th of November for the entire night, becoming what could only be described as an arte party.

 Perusing 'el museo Malba'

Back home, parks are grass, trees, and playgrounds, and buildings with ordinary uses are built in ordinary fashions.  Here, los parques are large swaths of grass and trees framing bronze statues and monuments, and government buildings, train stations, and law schools alike reflect grand movements in architecture.
 La "Facultad de Derechos"

Where I am from, graffiti is more often than not names scribbled on brick walls by rebellious, and awe-inspiring pieces of street art are few and far between.  In Buenos Aires, the majority of the graffiti is done with expert and calculated precision, and ornate works of street art can be found on nearly every block.
 Street Art

The most impressive part of the art here is in how it fits – how the art flows with the streets and city-bustle as if it’s been there the whole time, as if its meant to be there. People bustle along sidewalks beneath backdrops of stencils and painted figures, couples roll on the grass beneath the shade of a bronze Herculese, and students navigate between towering pillars on the way to class at the Facultad de Derechos.

I found your art, Nora.


Mathew Cerf is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is currently a junior at the University of San Diego. 

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