mi fileteado

dabbling with the ornamentary stylings of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is full of fileteado from the signs above shops to decorative touches on the coletivos (buses). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tango sign without the swirling shapes and erupting flowers that characterize filete as it’s also called.

Recently I decided I needed to try it myself.

I started copying the shapes from objects I passed on the street and from a tiny book I found in a small family owned Libreria. It gave me a little history as well. Filete emerged at the turn of the 20th century on the carts of vendors to entice potential buyers. The painted forms mimic ornate metal Art Nouveau embellishments, but humble Italian boys selling veggies and wares in the streets of Buenos Aires don’t have the money for fancy rims and forged ironwork, nor did they want to pull such a load around town.

Filete provided a colorful, beautiful, thin painted exterior to dazzle the eyes, and hide the worn object beneath. Very Buenos Aires. Very.

The following two pieces emerged in my sketchbook over the course of 2 or 3 days.


Birds and dragons are often used in filteado. The dragons are relatively simple 2D forms emerging from the filete and there isn’t a ton of variation that I’ve seen. The birds are usually tiny, cute, and chirping. In Hebrew Jonah actually means dove, a biblical symbol and a symbol of peace. But in hebrew, as in Spanish, there is no differentiation between a dove and a pigeon, and Buenos Aires, like any city, is full of these palomas. My Israeli cousins call me “pigeon” and I guess it’s become one of my symbols… the dirty city dove, and it made sense in playing with the combination of the ornate, pristine, and the dirty city. I made a pencil sketch sitting in Parque Rivadavia on a beautiful sunny day, and at Hannah’s urging gave it a little color with her colored pencils… I hadn’t touched colored pencils in years, but I loved what the color did for it. Next day I went back in with the cheap acrylics I had purchased a few days before.


The second piece is not a huge statement of any sort, but explores a tiny bit a connection I saw immediately between the origins of filete (the vendors pulling carts), and the Cartoneros as they’re called. I can’t say I know a ton about their work or way of life but they blend into the Porteno landscape seemlessly so much so that they drivers speeding down the mostly one way streets don’t even seem to notice as they barely miss men or horses pulling enormous carts, ENORMOUS carts, spilling over with monstrous bags of cardboard. The street corners, where Portenos leave their trash every morning (trash pick up is daily, and executed noisily by the most physically fit, perpetually-sprinting, garbage men I’ve ever seen) are often covered in trash strewn about. The Cartoneros open up the trash bags at all hours and search for cardboard which they can sell to recycling companies and any other items they might find useful. (*disclaimer: rumor*) I heard the governor who owns the trash collection companies has been televised supporting the Cartonero culture. Not sure how he’s benefitting… but it’s probably a scheme like the colective system.

In any case, Cartoneros to me are a symbol of Buenos Aires, and perhaps all of Argentina still shaking off the Crisis of 2001 where the flow of money stopped, bank accounts were frozen by the government, and riots ensued for months. Many people have now unconventional jobs… whether it they be peddling goods on the subway, going door to door offering to shop your knives (the guy on our street used a pan flute an piped a special tune to let us knew he was passing), or digging through trash for cardboard. The only people still pulling carts today are the Cartoneros, and their carts are definitely not ornamented with filete. Buenos Aires white washes a lot of the grimier things, or at least covers them with filete… but they just seem to ignore the Cartoneros.

No entendes que pasa por aca? Yo tampoco.


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