Before Justin Bieber ever stepped foot in Colombia street artists in Bogota were frequently harassed by police officers and beaten or taken to jail overnight if they didn’t pay a bribe.

In 2011, 16-year-old Diego Felipe was shot in the back of the head by police after they found him spray painting graffiti in Bogota. The details of the incident are shady; police say they thought he had a gun and matched the description of a violent offender they were looking for, meanwhile Colombians and the street artist community were outraged.

In 2013, 19-year-old Justin Bieber came to Bogota for a performance. Afterwards, with full police escort, he and his crew were allowed to spray paint graffiti on Bogota’s famous Calle 29, where local artists go to show their stuff.

Why were police escorting a foreigner so he could graffiti when a local teen was shot dead for the same thing? When word got out shit hit the proverbial fan.

Mass protests occurred, and local artists immediately painted over Bieber’s work (a Canadian flag with a pot leaf in the middle – in case you were wondering) and covered the area with 700 new pieces of art all in dedication to Diego.

Since the incident police, government and artists have come to an understanding and found a new appreciation for murals and street art in the city. Government and local businesses started commissioning artists for pieces, and also realized the potential for tourism. Bogota’s street art walking tour is one of the most popular things to do in the city.

Street art now exists in a legal grey area in Colombia – it isn’t legal, but no police officer is going to give you trouble for it either. Bogota’s art is prolific, you can’t walk down the street or drive down the highway without seeing it. The city is home to several street art crews, including internationally renowned artists whose work now sells for millions. From criticizing the treatment of oil field workers, to the natural devastation caused by giant corporations like Dole; the pieces are gorgeous, political and powerful.

Take a look for yourself:

bogotastreetart

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