Gaia and Nanook finished painting a sensitive new design on the front of a locksmith’s shop in Buenos Aires a couple of weeks ago. It features an African American with a sunset lodged in his memory as a reference to the slave trade and Argentina’s tragic past.
A strong feature of the work of the two U.S. street artists Gaia and Nanook is the way their interventions often relate very specifically to the building, location or district where they are painted. Nanook explains about their latest design in the neighbourhood of Barracas: “Barracas is a port in Buenos Aires that greatly grew in wealth due to the slave trade. Argentina had a large African slave population at one time, but after sending slaves and indigenous to the front lines of every war that Argentina waged, the population of Africans and indigenous was greatly diminished in Argentina. Cumbia is one of the musical styles that was derived from African drum music, and is one of the only traces of the large African culture that was once in Argentina. This mural depicts a modern African American with a sunset embedded in his memory, as a line of desert pink and blue is pulled straight by a disembodied hand.”
In 1810, a census showed that black residents accounted for about 30% of the population of Buenos Aires. By 1887, however, their numbers had dwindled to 1.8%. Another popular theory about the decline of the Afro-Argentine population is that the yellow fever epidemic in 1871 wiped out many poor black urban neighbourhoods, along with the bloody war with Paraguay in the 1860s. Several historians also argue that the real reason why the black population in Argentina diminished so dramatically during the late 19th century was due to the deliberate policy of racial genocide carried out under President Domingo Sarmiento who advocated using blacks as ‘cannon fodder’ and exposing them to disease.
Check out our interview with Gaia talking about his brilliant intervention with Nanook at Meeting of Styles 2012 in Buenos Aires.