Walk around Buenos Aires enough and you can’t help noticing the colorful painted swirls of fileteado (also known as filete) decorating some public signs and buildings. Thought to have been inspired by intricate Italian metal designs, this beautiful stylistic artwork originally appeared on early-20th-century horse carts.

History of Fileteado

As time progressed, fileteado migrated to trucks and buses, softening these hulking vehicles with gaudy colors and symbols such as flowers, vines, birds, dragons and – of course – the Argentine flag. Today, fileteado on plaques serves to communicate proverbs and poetry.

Interestingly, this art form was once in danger of extinction. During the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983 fileteado was banned from public-transportation systems. Fileteadores (fileteado artists) had to think of other creative places for their works. They started decorating signs, posters, newsstands and buildings, eventually evolving their labors from simple decorative touches into independent works of art. Fileteado has since become an integral part of Buenos Aires’ artistic culture.

You can buy plaques at ferias (street fairs), especially in San Telmo, where Carlos Gardel is a popular subject. At the Mercado de las Pulgas you'll find fileteadores selling hand-painted signs, some of them from their workshops. To see buildings covered in fileteado, keep your eyes peeled in San Telmo, La Boca and Abasto (especially near Museo Casa Carlos Gardel). You can also visit the Bar de Filete (at Defensa 217), a restaurant with an informal filete museum next door.

And to create this lovely artwork yourself, check out the classes given by Alfredo Genovese (www.fileteado.com.ar) or Lucero Maturano (www.fileteadoslucerom.com.ar).