Fiery Argentina has been in my head a lot in the past few days, for reasons good and bad.
For the good, I’ve seen some photos from the excellent Graffitimundo organisation’s forthcoming documentary White Walls Say Nothing, about street art in Buenos Aires. As I’ve written before, graffiti is one of the most well-established and accepted ways in which political ideas are communicated in Argentina’s capital.
Writing on walls is ingrained in the culture, often tolerated and respected. It is the go-to method for people to convey ideas, information and agendas – as well as the more familiar “te amo, Maria”s. Graffiti here has a long-standing cultural connection with expression and activism. It’s also so much more than ‘graffiti’, it is beautiful.
Because in Argentina street artists do not have to sneak in the shadows, or paint fast in the stealth of night, they have the time and space to be what they should be – artists. It helps that all the street artists I met were lovely.
The gentlemanly Jaz in particular blew my mind.
In BA in 2011 I met Graffitimundo’s Jonny Robson, a British expat heavily involved with the street art scene and its great that this documentary is finally coming to fruition. The photographs from the third week of filming are a tantalising glimpse of what is to come.
For the bad, I’m wondering what those artists are making of the current Falklands row. It’s ridiculous that the islanders have had to go the the lengths of holding a referendum – especially as all sides must realise it has no legal relevance.
To me the point is that the Falklands or Las Malvinas is carted out, regularly, by Argentina’s leadership. For President Kirchner this is just something else to give Argentinians to be riled about, or angry about, or to worry about, or to complain about, or to rally against. It seems too 1984 to be true, yet the UK and the media is falling over itself to perpetuate the angst.
Noelia Lopez, who I stayed with in the suburb of Avellaneda just south of BA’s city centre, was a clever graduate in her mid-20s working for Accenture. She told me that the country’s chronic shortage of coins could be easily fixed, but it wasn’t – because it gave the people an infuriating daily problem to fixate on. It was an all-consuming distraction from all the other things that were wrong with Argentina.
(When I say the coin shortage was “chronic” and “all-consuming”, I mean one day I had to visit FOUR different shops before I could get enough coins for a bus ride that cost about 25p/US$0.40. Shopkeepers give out penny sweets instead of change; you don’t get a choice. The bus ticket machines take only coins; they never give coins back.)
It’s unsurprising populist Argentine politics: a small distraction, a small sticking plaster. “Free football on TV for all” is an actual policy. And you know The Economist‘s Big Mac Index? I’m probably not the first to tell you the government used to keep the price of a Big Mac artificially low: skews the data, keeps Big Mac-eaters happy.
Las Malvinas is just one more thing to keep Argentinians looking the other way. And the great thing is, since the UK is never going to give the islands back, the leadership will always have fuel for its fire.