Mexico City Street Art Tour
- explore the cradle of Mexican Urban Art in Doctores
Mexico City is full of great street art. No matter what neighbourhood you are in, you will see elaborate works of art on large walls and shopfront shutters. But if you want to get to the cradle of Mexican street art and see freestyle, non-commissioned graffiti – in short, the “real thing” – you will have to go to the Doctores neighbourhood. Since this is not the safest neighbourhood, I recommend you take a tour there. We took the free walking tour of Roma and Doctores offered on Freetour.com, which was an excellent choice.
Graffiti came to Mexico in the late 1980s and 90s with emigrants returning from the United States. The scene still takes many of its style influences from the US, mainly from nearby Texas. Many artists that started on the streets of Doctores have since gone to art school and get commissioned to paint walls in Roma and Condesa. As our guide pointed out to us, painting freely (and illegally) on random walls is quite a different thing. Elaborate works are quickly tagged over by competing artists or rivalling gangs in the neighbourhood. Earning respect in Doctores is tough.
Many famous urban artists started on the rough streets of Doctores
The borough Doctores which borders on Colonia Roma is in the hands of different gangs that mark their territory and communicate through tags. You will therefore see the same name tags all across the neighbourhood and in a very exposed manner. While technically, spraying graffiti without the wall-owner’s consent is forbidden in Mexico, it is tolerated by the police in Doctores. Just like they tolerate the area’s underground clubs and drug sales. This does not sound like a neighbourhood you would want to walk around at night. Even during daytime, some streets are quite dangerous. This is why I strongly recommend going with a local guide who knowns which areas to avoid.
What I found particularly interesting regarding Mexico City’s street art scene in general is that it is largely a-political. Most graffities are purely decorative. In Bogotá, for example, almost every work of urban art has a political message. Maybe therefore, the graffiti artists are more severely persecuted in Colombia than in Mexico. While Mexico City urban art may not be political political, it still bears many references to indigenous heritage and pop-culture. Frida Kahlo and her artwork are frequently referenced and a brand-new graffiti we saw on our tour included the face of Yalitza Aparicio, the indigenous actress starring in the award-winning Roma movie.
The Toy Museum is one of the street art hot-spots in the City
Probably the most well-known stops on any serious street art tour is the Museo del Juguete Antiguo México (MUJAM) in Doctores. The Museum is home to a large collection of old toys, ranging from Barbie dolls to King Kong figures. But what do toys have to do with graffiti? Next to collecting toys, the MUJAM also sponsors street art. In its parking lot, on the rooftop and even inside the Museum, you can see many works of urban art.
However, I would not necessarily recommend entering the museum on your tour. Entry is 50 MXN and what you get is an old house stuffed from top to bottom with old toys. If you are not a collector yourself or enjoy reminiscing about Mexican toys that are no longer produced, you might find the Toy Museum itself quite boring.
The artwork inside is also not that spectacular. I found the view from the rooftop the most interesting. You can clearly see the demarcation line of gentrification in the neighbourhood. What really put me off about the MUJAM though, were the dodgy characters supposedly selling toys when we entered and some more dodgy characters upstairs. Be on your guard if you decide to go into the museum.
We also learned a lot about urban development in the area
Next to street art, we also learned a lot about the urban development in Doctores. Our guide used to work in that area and was eager to share his knowledge about gentrification in Doctores and the history of Roma. He also took us to the edge of Obrero neighbourhood, which allegedly was built entirely from material stolen by the workers from the construction sites in Roma. We also learned about how the 1985 earthquake affected the area. At the end of the tour, we had seen and heard about a lot more than just the urban arts scene in Mexico City. The walking tour around was a great way to get out of the gentrified Roma neighbourhood and see the other side of Mexico City. I totally recommend you do this tour. In my opinion, it is one of the top 5 things you can do to get to know Mexico City.
Where have you seen the most amazing street art? Let me know in the comments.