Buenos Aires, especially during the springtime, offers an incredible array of attractions for tourists (and of course, for curious study abroad students) to better acquaint themselves with the city. However, many of the most popular sites, from the botanical gardens to the zoo to the plethora of art museums, are located in the affluent northern neighborhoods. Interested in seeing a different side of BA, a few friends and I decided to take a forty-minute colectivo ride deep into the city to explore the famous neighborhood of La Boca.
The English translation of la boca is ‘the mouth’—and the neighborhood is so aptly named because it is located at the mouth of the Riacheulo river that runs along the city’s southern border. While La Boca was originally used solely for shipyards, it now has developed a reputation as a working class and run-down neighborhood. Despite this, it has remained a popular tourist spot for its vibrantly colored houses and famous pedestrian street, the Caminito.
Since it had unfortunately begun to rain, we decided to check out Fundación Proa, the modern and contemporary art museum located along the river. It would be an understatement to say that this was unlike anything I had ever experienced considering almost every work of art in the exhibit was designed as a pun to reflect on political, social, and economic questions. (I think the group favorite was a flashing sign of the communist hammer and sickle formed out of punctuation marks.)
The most compelling part of the museum was the “Forensis” exhibit that displayed the work of Forensic Architecture. This forensic agency, comprised of architects, filmmakers, theorists, and scientists, developed projects to explore abuses of state power in the context of political struggle and violent conflict. One project, for example, focused on drone-fired missiles that leave holes smaller than the size of a single pixel on highest resolution as well as the implications this has on the accurate documentation of drone strike satellite imagery. These questions about the boundaries of law and vision specifically pertaining to drones, which have such a prominent presence in U.S. military operations, were very provocative and powerful.
Hoping to see something slightly more…light-hearted, we headed outside to explore the Caminito, which sadly only extends for a few blocks before dissolving into the surrounding neighborhood. In 1960, local La Boca artist Benito Quinquela Martín painted the street and constructed a makeshift stage for outside performances, turning the neighborhood into an artistic haven. Today, however, the street has developed a bit of an inauthentic Epcot-esque feel.
As promised by the online travel guides, there were multicolored buildings, elaborate murals, and tango performers galore. But as we traversed the street, we quickly realized that it was obviously designed to be a tourist trap; it was crowded with vendors selling overpriced knick-knacks and generic street food. It was also interesting to note the contrast between the fairly poor area and the wealthier visitors (some shamelessly toting their selfie sticks) who flocked to La Boca for the day. To me, it was a pretty visible manifestation of the north-south socioeconomic divide that characterizes the city.
After my experience in La Boca, I would say that it certainly made for a very unique—and unexpected—day excursion. And while it may not have been the most exciting, it was certainly one of the most insightful.