Zosen & Mina

Barcelona-based duo Zosen Bandido and Mina Hamada, Argentine and Japanese respectively, have just come to the end of a 3 month tour of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. Zosen and Mina Hamada’s collaborative work is characteristically free-flowing, colourful and optimistic, reflecting the real-life personas of the artists who are nothing but buena onda. Starting their trip with a show called “Cultura Popular” in Club Cultural Matienzo, they moved through Cordoba, Mendoza and Salta before heading further north to Boliva and Peru, ending their trip with an exhibition entitled “Nomadas” in Paraiso Galeria in Lima. Sorcha O’Higgins talked to them about their experiences in South America and how the scene here is different from that in Europe.

Zosen: I got into graffiti through skateboarding. I was born in Buenos Aires, but my mother is from Spain, so I’ve been living in Barcelona for a long time. When I lived in Buenos Aires when I was young, I used to skate. There was no culture of graffiti here yet, it didn’t exist. Sure, there were the political paintings, paintings by rock and roll bands, but no graffiti like in New York. But people were skating, that culture existed here then, like the punk/skate scene. So when I got to Barcelona, I continued skating and the people who were skating there were also into graffiti. I started doing tags, got into doing some really bad letter.

Mina Hamada: I had never painted in the street before living in Barcelona. Before, when I was living in Japan, I didn’t know anything about murals. I used to draw all the time in Japan, and write stories and poems which I’d illustrate. So when I moved to Barcelona in 2009, I met loads of people who were painting in the streets. I’d go out with them, to parties, or to paint. At the start I was a bit nervous, or embarrassed as I didn’t know how to use spray paint, but I did it anyway and really enjoyed it. 

Zosen: Now, painting in the streets in Barcelona is totally illegal. You get in lots of trouble if you’re caught, so you have to choose where you’re going to paint very carefully before you go out, so that your wall lasts and doesn’t get removed immediately. In Latin America, you can paint wherever you want.

Mina Hamada: At the start, I’d paint in abandoned places in Barcelona. But it’s more fun here, in Latin America. You just talk to the owners of the house, and if you get on well with each other, you can paint. It’s a lot easier in Buenos Aires.

Zosen: I’ve painted a few small walls in Buenos Aires before. One near Parque Chacabuco and another with Mart and those guys, near the River Plate stadium. There’s actually still a bit of that one left. At that time, people like Blu still hadn’t come here, so no one really knew how to paint up high, people were only painting as far as their arm would reach. Seeing as I had come from Europe, I knew you could do it that way, so we painted the whole top part. That was in 2006, and when we went back in December it was still there.

Zosen: Barracas is like a “Hall of Fame”, there are so many walls. Pol Corona, Mart, Jaz, Pastel and Chu have all painted down there too. Seeing as we were here, we wanted to paint something, so they invited us to paint a walls that’s right in front of the Sullair buildings. The house belongs to a woman called Susana, who’s lived in the neighbourhood for 45 years. Everyone calls her “Abu”, short for “abuela” (grandmother). She was so great. We spent 3 days down there. We ate in her house, we hung out with her grandchildren.  The part of Barracas we were in was more industrial, but the dodgier part is just around the corner. One day when we were painting, we saw a guy who had just been robbed running after the thief. The police came…then you realise that it’s not Palermo, you know?! The houses, the people…it’s more humble. But, also I think that’s why it’s more interesting to paint down there, the people aren’t able to repair their walls, it’s almost like you’re not doing an artwork on their house, you’re giving it a new coat of paint! It was also great to really get to know another part of the city that most people don’t get to see.

Both: Painting in Mendoza for the Muropolis Project was fun. We painted in a school in Mendoza that the artist Quino, who did the Mafalda cartoon, had studied in. That was in a sketchy area too. 15 year old kids were asking Mina for her number, asking her to draw the “5 points”. She didn’t know what it was, they told us it’s something from a videogame that the kids tag there these days. It was great to paint with some old friends, and to get to know the artists from Mendoza, as well as meet artists, like Lelo https://www.facebook.com/lelo021?fref=ts  from Brazil, that we hadn’t met before. There were 30 artists painting, 15 from Mendoza and 15 from other places. We went out and danced cumbia one night, drank lots of wine, went to lots of asados. We went rafting too!! It was like summer camp.

 Both: The scene in the Northern Argentina is pretty young, and a lot smaller than Buenos Aires or Cordoba. But it’s nice because there are more indigenous-style murals. We also painted in La Paz and Cochabamba in Bolivia. The scene there is kind of similar to Argentina in that there’s a lot of freedom, you just ask the owner for permission. We painted a big mural in a workshop in December, the rainy season. The weather was tricky, we were constantly looking at the forecast to see when it wouldn’t be raining, getting up at 5.30am to start painting at 7am and we’d have to stop at 12pm. Acrylic takes longer to dry than spray paint as well, which was problematic.

Both: We saw lots of artisan craftsmanship in the north.  But we can’t say how much that will influence our next projects until we get back to Europe. Three months of travelling and meeting so many different people…it will take some time to process all that and see what comes out of it! But it’s cool that we’ve spent so much time with locals wherever we’ve been, you get a much better understanding of the place that way.

Zosen: The photographs we took will form part of a project that I’m working on. When I did the trip in 2006, I went to Brazil, Chile and Argentina, and I started to write some articles for a few magazines, explaining a bit about the reality of the street art scene down here, so people in Europe could understand the differences. Like, in Chile, they mix spray paint to get different colours. I mean, you’d never see that in Europe. In Sao Paolo too, you’ve got “pixação”, and some guys do it with a tiny roller. So, for every city that I’ve been to, I’ve written something, so I’m going to make a little book, with the photos that we’ve taken. Maybe we’ll do a video too, but probably just with the photos, to show places like El Alto in Bolivia.