Cultural Autonomy Though Sign Painting

Can a hand painted sign safeguard a city against the homogenizing effects of globalization? Can such an art form contribute to a thriving local economy? Art is Power visited Buenos Aires, Argentina to learn about a distinctively Argentinean painting style called Fileteado Porteño that does just that. It adds life to everything from coffee shops and kiosks to store windows and water dispensers. Dario Dress from, an online travel magazine and tour company, provided Art is Power with a Fileteado Porteño tour, an interview, and a workshop led by Gustavo Ferrari, a 15-year veteran “Filetador” as these painters are called, and apprentice to the famed Alfredo Genovese. As they explained the history and implications of the art form, Dario and Gustavo displayed a high level of enthusiasm. Dario asserted,

I love explaining these things to the people on the tours and my friends. Many Portenos are familiar with the art, however, they have little to no knowledge of the history and implications of the art

Clearly it is easy to take for granted the impact of something so ubiquitous, and Art is Power was fortunate to be educated on the influence behind this distinctively Argentinean art form.


Fileteado Porteño was developed alongside the popular dance form; Tango, in Buenos Aires during the late 19th century. In many respects it is a visual expression of the dance. In fact, a popular saying in Fileteador circles is that Fileteado Porteño is dancing Tango with a brush. The chief pioneers of this painting style were working-class Italian immigrants who decorated carriages and vendor carts that transported fruit, milk, bread, and other items to local markets. Over time, it spread onto trucks, busses, boutique windows, and various other surfaces. Gustavo Ferrari explained,

Fileteado Porteño became so popular, that in 1975, the city of Buenos Aires passed a law prohibiting Fileteado on colectivos, or busses, because many were so thoroughly covered that riders couldn’t identify the numbers.

From left to right, pictures courteous of and
From left to right, pictures courteous of and

The Fileteado Porteño of today, along with Tango dancing, bandoneon music, and other art forms pay homage to the cultural values of Buenos Aires. Business owners who contract Fileteadors, champion these values and function as agents of cultural preservation. Supporting the skills of Fileteadors also makes their talents marketable; leading to livelyhoods that engage their creativity. It is no wonder that in 2014, UNESCO proposed Fileteado Porteño be regarded as an intangible cultural heritage of Argentina.


It was a pleasure to discover the power that a customary art form can possess for a city. Art is Power would like to thank Dario Dress and Gustavo Ferrari for their hospitality and for sharing their knowledge and experiences.


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