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The Many Faces of Tijuana

A Graffiti Portrait of the Gateway to Latin America

All photos courtesy of Fred from Bombing Science

The Many Faces of Tijuana

How does one create a portrait of a city? What is the best, most complete way to showcase the passion and personality of an urban area will well over a million residents? Which faces are most representative? What does it really mean to live in this place?

These questions are even more complicated when it comes to Tijuana, the most populous community in Baja California, and home to the world’s busiest border crossing.

It has been said that there are three Californias:  Alta, Baja and La Frontera. Tijuana inhabits the borderlands – a space with psychological as well as physical boundaries and dimensions – straddling the line between two countries, two cultures, and two languages.

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

For the mononymously known photographer Fred, the true portrait of any city – even one as complex as Tijuana – emerges from its street art, the unfiltered, uncensored and often defiant images that, in their totality, are a strong declaration of self-identity.

For the last 20 years, Fred has traveled the world in a never-ending quest to find the best graffiti art for his website, Bombing Science. He recently stopped in Tijuana and managed to take over 500 graffiti pictures in only a few days. Touring Tijuana on his bicycle, Fred witnessed the burgeoning street-art scene of the city.

“I was really surprised,” he said, “with the quantity and the quality of the graffiti you can find on the streets of TJ. The local graffiti artists are just top notch, and you have that sense of a global city for arts when you can see so many artists from other Mexican states, the U.S., and even Europe.”

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

Mexico, of course, has a long history of public art, from the Baja California peninsula’s prehistoric cave paintings to the great murals that sprang up around the country in the decades immediately following the Mexican Revolution. The mural movement was effectively used as an educational tool for the masses during the 1920s and 30s, in the process producing indelible works from modern masters like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.

There is a big difference, however, between public art that is commissioned and comes with official permission, and that which is not. The former produces murals, the latter graffiti.

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

Graffiti culture was energized in the 1970s via its association with vibrant musical genres like punk rock and hip hop. In Tijuana, street art began to proliferate in the late 1980s, and has remained the most honest and immediate form of artistic expression ever since. Neighborhoods have developed their own styles, but what they share in common is a politically unmediated sensibility.

What does it mean to be Tijuanense? Local artists are offering their own answers on outdoor canvases all over the city.

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

For those who’d like to embark upon their own graffiti tour of Tijuana, Fred recommends starting in the following areas.

  • Zona Centro (downtown)
  • The alleys and passageways off Avenida Revolucion
  • The beachside boardwalks

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

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About Chris Sands

Chris Sands is the author of Bohemia by the Bay, and writes about wine, golf, and travel for publications such as Baja.com, Los Cabos Guide, Los Cabos Magazine, 10 Best, and USA Today. He is a full-time resident of Cabo San Lucas.

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