End the duopoly

Fighting Social Injustice Through Graffiti, and Making a Business of It

Where the average eye sees empty and drab building walls, Mr. López, the founder of the graffiti artists crew Vértigo Graffiti, sees blank canvases, opportunities to colorfully further the cause of social justice, whether in his home city — the Colombian capital, Bogotá — or the rest of the world.

Looking younger than his 38 years, sporting a scruffy beard, wearing jeans and an untucked casual shirt, he was constantly on the move recently crisscrossing Bogotá, which has become one of the world’s top graffiti destinations.

A few days later he was wandering the cobblestoned back alleys of Cartagena, a historic coastal Colombian city that is also famous for its graffiti art. And several months later he was still on the go — this time in Turkey with his crew.

Not a graffiti artist himself, Mr. López plays multiple roles: art director, business manager, promoter, negotiator, lawyer, entrepreneur, festival producer, even tour guide. He is, in addition, a professor of entertainment law and cultural industries at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogotá.

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He refused to give himself a job title. “My job is to start conversations,” he said succinctly, in one of the few times he was succinct.

He now plays a key role at the forefront of a street art revolution that reflects his nation’s new face of pride and self-expression.

He sprinkles his nonstop passionate discourses on the importance of graffiti with references to great thinkers and authors — John Cheever, Umberto Eco and Aristotle, in one recent disquisition.

But his most frequent references are to the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, whom Mr. López refers to by his nickname, Gabo. “This line from Gabo’s 2004 novella “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” defines my philosophy: ‘It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

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